Essays and Criticism
Critical Essay on If You Sing Like That for Me
The short story ‘‘If You Sing like That for Me,’’ by Akhil Sharma, opens with a scene that is the focus of the story. Anita, the first person narrator, relates:
. . . [S]even months after my wedding, I woke from a short, deep sleep in love with my husband. I did not know then, lying in bed and looking out the window at the line of gray clouds, that my love would last only a few hours and that I would never again care for Rajinder with the same urgency. . . .
This opening scene is the central point around which the entire story is constructed. The story continues to relate the events leading up to this pivotal moment of intense and singular emotion for Anita, and then goes on to relate the events that cause her love to ‘‘last only a few hours’’ and never return. The narrative movement of the story, through its concentration on this pivotal moment in Anita’s life, reveals the source of this otherwise inexplicable intense feeling of love: it is born of an idealism and escapism that characterizes Anita’s views of life; and its permanent disappearance is brought about by the very reality that Anita continuously tries to escape.
The reality that Anita continuously tries to escape from is that of her marriage and, by extension, her position as a woman in India. As a woman in India, Anita doesn’t have much of a choice but to have an arranged marriage to a man who can support her, and to raise his family. Although she does not want to, she is betrothed and wed to Rajinder, a man whom she meets only one time before her engagement, and whom she finds, at best, unremarkable.
Anita is bitter and sad that this is her assigned lot in life; she questions why she must remain in India and get married, while her younger sister, who was blessed with more ambition and cleverness than she, will get to go to America and enjoy greater freedom there. However, Anita says nothing to anyone about being against marrying Rajinder, and instead faces the impending marriage by not accepting the reality of the situation. She does not believe that the match between her and Rajinder will be made, and she deludes herself into thinking that something will come up—‘‘His family might decide that my B.A. and B.Ed. were not enough, or Rajinder might suddenly announce that he was in love with his typist’’—that will save her from being married off. This ability to delude herself from reality is shown again and again in the story, and is crucial to the development of the climactic moment at which she suddenly feels in love with her husband. The marriage initially causes Anita intense anxiety:
I would think of myself with [Rajinder’s] smallness forever, bearing his children, going where he went, having to open always to his touch, and whatever I was looking at would begin to waver, and I would want to run.
But slowly, she adapts to her life as a married housewife by pretending that it is not her that is leading her life: ‘‘I did not feel as if I were the one making love or cooking dinner or going home to see Ma and Pitaji . . . No one guessed that it was not me.’’
As before, Anita finds herself retreating into self-delusion in self-defense, and eventually, delusion becomes the driving impetus in her life; the most active part of her existence during these early months of marriage, the part of her life that brought her happiness, were her daily naps and the accompanying dreams. Throughout the narrative, Anita often discusses how she looks forward to sleeping with an urgency that eclipses other aspects of her life, even the sickness of her father. While she is caring for him, for example, she wants ‘‘desperately for Asha to come, so that I could leave, and bathe, and lie down to dream of a house with a red-tiled roof near the sea.’’ Her obsession with sleep is indicative of a clinical depression; however, her obsession with sleep also reveals that she spends a significant portion of her life indulging in dreams as a method of escapism from that very life. In fact, she has replaced her real life—her dispassionate and formal marriage to Rajinder, her small flat in a stifling city—with a dream that represents her ideal of life.
That house near the sea she mentions is discussed at length earlier in the narrative, when Anita describes her daily routine, which of course includes a time especially for sleep:
Around two, before taking my nap, I would pour a few mugs of water on my head. I liked to lie on the bed imagining that the monsoon had come. Sometimes this made me sad, for the smell of wet earth and the sound of the rain have always made me feel as if I have been waiting for someone all my life and that person has not yet come. I dreamed often of living near the sea, in a house with a sloping red roof and bright-blue window frames, and...
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Unrequited Love In Sharma’s Short Story
Anita, the protagonist in Akhil Sharma’s story ‘‘If You Sing like That for Me’’ is a tragic figure of sorts. She appears to be in great need of love but cannot figure out how to get it. She does not ask for much out of life, and maybe that, in itself, is a major part of her problem. Does she truly know what she wants? Or does she just take whatever comes her way? Anita also comes from what appears to be an unsupportive emotional environment. But have these circumstances permanently scarred her or does she use her previous experiences as excuses to close herself off, denying herself the small but possibly significant opportunities to feel loved. The end of Sharma’s short story has the power to wrench the hearts of even the most detached readers, knowing what they do about Anita by the time the conclusion of this sad story is reached. So are the consequences that befall Anita at the end of the story unearned or did she set herself up for the tragedy?
There are four major characters in Anita’s life who are sources of potential love: her mother, her father, her sister, and her husband. None of them appears to understand Anita or know what she needs. For example, Anita believes that her mother loves her. But the comments that her mother shares at the restaurant when Anita is introduced to her future husband, Rajinder, make the reader question the significance of that love. ‘‘I wanted Anita to be a doctor,’’ Anita’s mother says after having just boasted about Anita’s sister and two of Anita’s uncles. Then her mother adds: ‘‘but she was lazy and did not study.’’ Anita quickly dismisses her mother’s criticism. She and her mother loved each other, Anita states, but there were times when something inside her mother ‘‘would slip and she would attack me.’’ Now, is this statement an honest analysis of her mother or is Anita rationalizing away an emotional pain?
In an attempt to further explain her mother, Anita adds more information that pretty much sums up Anita’s own personality. First, Anita builds her mother up by stating that she is ‘‘so clever.’’ And it is this cleverness that stymies Anita. It throws her off guard, leaving her feeling inferior. But Anita does not seem to reflect on this, or at least not at this point in the story. Rather, she deflects it, preferring to believe that it is her love of her mother that makes Anita feel ‘‘helpless.’’ Later in the story, however, Anita states a little more honestly that she believes her mother did not love her as much as she loved Anita’s sister. Once Anita admits this to the reader (and therefore to herself), she is also able to confess that knowing this fact has allowed her to rescind some of love she originally expresses for her mother. She takes a step once removed from her emotions and even boldly mocks her mother’s tears and her mother’s pain at the loss of a baby. ‘‘Ma knew how to let her voice falter as if the pain were too much to speak of,’’ Anita says, inferring that her mother’s tears were merely a dramatic display, intended to arouse emotions in those who were observing her. But Anita does not fall for her mother’s play-acting. In contrast, Anita states that she is ‘‘more impressed’’ with her father’s tears. Her comparison is done, but necessarily to demonstrate how much she loves her father. Rather, she seems to do this as if to say that she does not much love her father, but she loves her mother even less. It is difficult to understand where the love exists between daughter and mother. Although Anita believes there is love between them, the story does not portray any moment in which that love is truly exposed. It is also impossible to determine whether it is the mother who has not nourished the daughter or the daughter who has turned away. In other words, has the mother not given love to Anita, or does Anita not know how to receive it?
What is known is that in the absence of a fullhearted mother’s love, Anita turns to her father. She does not, however, rush into his arms. She might love her father, but she does so from a great distance. And from the details that are provided in the story, there are many reasons why she has moved far away from him. The first time Anita’s father is introduced, he does not make a remarkable impact. He tries ‘‘to impress Rajinder [Anita’s future husband] with his sophistication,’’ by speaking in English. However, Anita demonstrates to the reader that her father’s English is not very good. As soon as Anita shares this information with the reader, the story immediately jumps to a scene in the restaurant where the family is dining. It is a visual image of a swinging door opening to the kitchen, where a cow is standing ‘‘near a skillet.’’ It is hard not to associate Anita’s father with this cow, since just previous to this image, Anita was talking about her father. Now, since the story takes place in India, the cow is not as misplaced as it would have been had the restaurant been located in New York City, for example. But keep in mind that the intrusion of the cow into the story was purposeful. So what was intended? Well, at the least, the image is distracting enough to make the reader have an uneasy feeling. And this could be the author’s attempt to convey a similar uneasiness that Anita was experiencing as she listened to her father’s broken English, especially in knowing that his display was intended to impress her future husband. In other words, through Anita’s eyes, her father is as misplaced as the...
(The entire section is 2262 words.)