Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction General

Brahma's Dream

by (author) Shree Ghatage

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Jun 2005
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2005
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Written with exceptional grace and empathy, Brahma’s Dream explores the richness of relationships and the mystery of how one life is defined through its connection to others.

Set in Bombay amid the turbulence of India’s surge towards independence, Brahma’s Dream tells the story of thirteen-year-old Mohini, an unforgettable character whose medical problems set her apart from the world around her, and give her a wisdom and special place in it. Mohini suffers from a rare form of anemia that gradually diminishes her physically but increases her understanding of life in a way incomprehensible to those who move more easily through it.

Under her kind, wry gaze, a family, a city, and a country convulse with idealism and hope. Through Mohini the reader encounters the extraordinary characters who live in her family home, Koleshwar Nivas. Vishnupant, Mohini’s grandfather, is a forward-thinking professor of history who has devoted his life to making sense of India’s past so that the country might fulfil the promise of its future. Keshav, Mohini’s father, who, while embracing the prospect of independence, is eager to hold on to any progress made through British rule. But for both men Mohini is the centre of the universe, as she is for her devoted mother, Kamala, who has sacrificed the intimacy of her marriage to care for her child, and Vasanti, Mohini’s aunt who, having lost the chance at a life beyond the confines of family, looks to her remarkable niece for comfort and understanding. The lives of the Oek family are lived against the backdrop of the confrontation between a far-flung empire and the diminutive Mahatma Gandhi.

A joyous and moving novel, astute and reflective, Brahma’s Dream explores the Hindu belief that all life and all events are only a part of a vast continuum, and that momentous political and social change, birth, marriage, and even death, are only a twinkling in the eye of a god.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

Shree Ghatage was born in Bombay, India, and lived in St. John's Newfoundland. She has won three awards in the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Competition. Shree Ghatage now lives in Calgary.

Shree Ghatage's profile page

Excerpt: Brahma's Dream (by (author) Shree Ghatage)


On a clear, ochre morning, standing in the front verandah of Koleshwar Nivas and watching a rain tree release into the sky a flurry of parrots, Mohini noticed that the outer corner of her left eye had stopped twitching. She dropped her chin and slowly rotated her head. The muscles in her neck had loosened during the night, and the ache in the centre point between her eyebrows had disappeared. Relieved, she reached forward and picked off the verandah railing the pink stone that she had forgotten there the evening before. It felt pleasantly cool against her skin, its surface smooth and glassy but for a few places where it was chipped and rugged. Mohini held it up. A dull opaqueness met her eyes. The April sun was slanting into the south end of the verandah. She leaned over the railing and opened her palm. Astonished, she held up the stone with her fingertips and twirled it. Seen from any angle, the stone retained within its kernel minute specks of lustrous gold.

It was on a similar morning, almost a year to the day, that Mohini had stood in the verandah on her thirteenth birthday and watched the Irani sweep the footpath in front of his tea shop, the Light of India. He was leaning his broom against the wall when someone called out to him. He lifted his eyes.

Mohini turned to her right and followed his gaze. The back gate of the Marzellos’ yard was wide open. Three girls whom Mohini had once met but whose names she did not know were standing on a pile of bricks inside its high compound wall, the drooping branches of a guava tree grazing their heads. Craning forward, the girls began to reel off a lengthy list to the Irani: mutton patties, chicken samosas, biscuits, eggs, bread. When the list was done, they stepped down and, stretching their arms high above their heads, gave wide, noisy yawns.

One of the girls noticed Mohini; she quickly pushed shut the gate, but not before darting at Mohini a self-conscious grin, her fingers tucking behind her ears the uncombed hair that fell to her waist. Mohini raised her hand in greeting and turned away.

Across the lane from Koleshwar Nivas, the Kulkarni sisters were standing on the footpath in front of their house. They were holding out something in Mohini’s direction. “Come and show me!” she called out to them. They raced across Mohur Lane, opened Mohini’s gate, and placed two items on the railing. Before she could speak, they hurried back and disappeared around the side of their house. Mohini looked down. On the railing were two shiny cups fashioned from frangipani leaves, their conical shape held together by slim sticks that had been whittled down at both ends.

Mohini’s mother, Kamala, came out on the verandah. “Whom were you talking to?” she asked.

“Mina and Nina. Where’s Guruji? I didn’t see him this morning.”

Kale Guruji was the priest who performed the daily religious service, the puja, in a spacious room that housed the family deities.

“He’s coming late today. Your grandfather said he would sit for the Satya Narayan Puja at nine o’clock, after you have left for school.” Kamala held out her hand. “Breakfast is ready,” she said.

Mohini took in a deep breath. “Is it banana leaves I’m smelling, roasting on a griddle?”

“Bayabai has made your favourite – savoury rice pancakes.”

Mohini placed one hand in her mother’s and balanced on her other palm the two cups that weighed almost nothing.

On the way to school, just after Mohini had crossed Ranade Road Extension, Hansa appeared from behind a parked car. “I’ve been waiting and waiting!” she complained, a wide smile on her face. “I thought you would never come.” She was holding her arms behind her back and now instructed Mohini to close her eyes. After lifting Mohini’s hands, she pressed something into each palm. Mohini looked down. In her right hand was a picture of Lord Ganapati, His squinting eyes small and benign, and on her left palm a pinkish stone the size of a walnut.

“Hold it up,” Hansa said, pointing to the stone.

Inside were nestled thread-like veins, scarlet-coloured and branched.

Hansa was disappointed. “But my uncle told me it would sparkle in the sun.”

“It’s still beautiful.”


Mohini nodded. She began to undo the buckles of her satchel.

“What are you looking for?”

“My science book.”

Hansa took Mohini’s satchel from her shoulder and knelt down. After removing the book, she handed it to Mohini. Mohini placed Ganapati’s picture between its pages and gave it back to Hansa. She slipped the stone into her uniform pocket, handling it gently as though it were a charm.

“I’ll polish it after school for you,” Hansa said, standing up.

When Mohini walked out of the gate at the end of school, Balu, their servant, was waiting outside. She handed him her satchel and asked why he had come to fetch her. “Your mother said to bring your friend Hansa home for tea,” he said.

“I already asked.” Mohini smiled at Hansa, who was trying to hang her satchel from the top of her head.

When Balu held out his hand, Hansa hesitated.

“Give it to him,” Mohini said. “Look at your hair! It’s all messed up now.”

Hansa obliged.

Balu walked away, one satchel hanging from each arm.

Hansa looked at Mohini.

“What?” Mohini asked.

“Your body is tilting to the left today. More than usual.”

“Do you think so?” Mohini placed her feet together and looked down at her knees. The left knee was flexed forward as it always was. She shut one eye. Hansa was right. It did seem to be jutting out more than usual. It was many years since that knee had started to buckle; since her body, in response to the slow collapse of that joint, had begun to lean away from its centre of gravity.

“Do you want to hold my hand?” Hansa asked.

“No,” Mohini said. “Just don’t walk too quickly or I shan’t be able to keep up.”

They started north on Mohur Lane, in the direction of Shivaji Park. Mohini removed the stone from her pocket and passed it to Hansa, who rubbed it against her skirt all the way to Koleshwar Nivas.

On arriving home, the girls found Mohini’s grandfather, Vishnupant, sitting in the front verandah. He was tapping his pen against a thick notebook that lay open on his lap. Mohini asked what he was writing. “The usual,” he replied. “The jumbled state of affairs in this great country of ours.” He looked at Hansa. “And how is Hansa-phansa-chi-bhaji today?” he said. As always, Vishnupant’s pet name for Hansa made her giggle. Mohini stepped forward to read what her grandfather had written.

Hansa tugged on Mohini’s uniform. “Let’s go,” she mumbled, looking sideways into the house. Mohini knew that Hansa felt intimidated by Vishnupant. At the beginning, when they had just become friends, Mohini had asked Hansa why Vishnupant scared her so. Hansa had taken her time replying. “It’s because he is bald,” she said. “It makes him look too strict.”

Mohini had laughed. “Don’t be silly. What is there about a hairless head that makes you scared?”

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“A wonderful portrait of a family, a culture and a country. [Ghatage] has an exquisite ability to tell a moving story.”
The Chronicle-Herald (Halifax)

“Delightful . . . Ghatage’s elegant, effortless prose weaves the fine, domestic strands that comprise the Oek’s daily life. . . . In writing Brahma’s Dream, Ghatage took on the challenge of treading some much-explored territory, already trod by rather daunting literary heavyweights. . . . Brahma’s Dream, a quietly captivating, highly accomplished debut novel with a brave and enchanting girl at its heart, suggests [Ghatage] has risen to that challenge.”
The Globe and Mail

"A coming-of-age story, one all the more affecting for the fact that its heroine’s life is precarious, is combined with a powerful evocation of how history impinges on ordinary people. . . . Ghatage [has a] flair for the unconventional, empathetic point of view."
The Gazette (Montreal)

"A timeless story about the meaning of life . . . [that is] next to impossible to put down . . . . Ghatage has succeeded in writing a novel that . . . reveals itself to be beautifully complex.”
Calgary Herald

"Richly textured and utterly absorbing, Shree Ghatage's powerful evocation of Ghandi's India is a work of integrity and deep affection."
—Joan Clark, author of Latitudes of Melt

Praise for Shree Ghatage's Awake When All the World is Asleep:
“In delicate and searching prose, Ghatage uncovers the secret longings, disappointments, and fears of women and men who are a part of the modern world, yet still bound to centuries-old customs and behaviour.”
Publishers Weekly
"Quietly confident... forcefully and often powerfully lays bare the hidden truths, the small joys, and large pains of ordinary life."
—M.G. Vassanji, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

Other titles by Shree Ghatage