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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Ghosts of Vasu Master

by
Githa Hariharan


general information our review | links | about the author



Title: The Ghosts of Vasu Master
Author: Githa Hariharan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 276 pages
Availability: The Ghosts of Vasu Master is not available in the US or UK

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Our Assessment:

B+ : ambitious, with a good deal of charm

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       The Ghosts of Vasu Master is narrated by a newly retired teacher. Having spent most of his life teaching at the private P.G.Boys' School, in the Indian town of Elipettai, Vasu Master moves a bit uneasily into retirement.
       His farewell present from his students was a notebook, and among the things he does is to begin to make notes -- jotting down observations, memories, and thoughts about teaching. He also continues to teach a bit, becoming a tutor. He doesn't have many students, however, and eventually he is only left with one -- the most complicated and intractable case, Mani. The boy is twelve when he comes to Vasu Master, but "with, it seemed, the brain of a six or a seven-year-old". He doesn't speak, either, and has been through numerous schools and doctors, without anyone being able to draw him out -- or keep him under control.
       Vasu Master has no great immediate success with Mani, but eventually finds at least on thing that seems to keep him entertained and interested: stories. Vasu Master himself wasn't brought up on proper stories, discovering in his childhood that the ones he was told weren't at all like the ones other children heard -- and: "even worse than their bare, inadequate story content was their favourite theme: the dangers of storytelling." Now, however, he can see their power -- and finds them useful for himself too.
       Vasu Master doesn't live only in the present: the past also haunts him, and part of what he is trying to do is to "make peace with memory". His wife, Mangala, died many years earlier, and she only gradually becomes a strong presence in the book. Scenes from his childhood and his past are recounted, all in trying to understand the present.
       The Ghosts of Vasu Master is concerned with well-being on all levels: that of the soul, the mind, and the body. Vasu Master's physical ailments get some attention, while some want him to follow the path to enlightenment (and well-being) a Swami offers. Then there is Vasu Master's father, a doctor of the very wise and understanding sort, who shows a variety of ways of healing (or at least moving towards healing).
       Vasu Master's efforts to teach Mani take the broadest meaning of 'teach': he is as much psychologist as pedagogue, trying to help Mani free himself from whatever demons and burdens he carries within. The novel is interspersed with many stories Vasu Master recounts, focussed mainly on those of Grey Mouse, who also learns through experience along the way.
       Hariharan's novel is very ambitious, as her acknowledgements suggest, as she thanks the authors of works that have influenced her -- everyone from Ivan Illich and R.D.Laing to Susan Sontag and Oliver Sacks -- and she also mentions the (obvious) influence of works such as the Panchatantra. Their are times when the influences shine through too strongly, but overall Hariharan manages to use them well in her story, and the novel does work well simply as a story too. Vasu Master, and his pupil, grow and learn and come to terms with the world around them and their places in it, and Hariharan relates this process very nicely.
       Told in short chapters, alternating between events in the present, stories, and recollections, along with a bit of philosophising on Vasu Master's part, The Ghosts of Vasu Master moves at a good pace, and builds up nicely to its conclusion. Hariharan tries to do a great deal here, and not everything is a success, but it is a charming, entertaining, and thoughtful novel.

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Links:

The Ghosts of Vasu Master: Githa Hariharan: Other books by Githa Hariharan under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of literature from and about India

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About the Author:

       Indian author Githa Hariharan was born in 1954.

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