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...
(The entire section is 2013 words.)