A death, a prophecy, a loveless life, a busy husband, an overprotective childhood, the merciless heat and finally, the moon; all these words lead towards the troubled life of a young, beautiful and romantic girl, named Maya. The protagonist of the book, Cry, the Peacock is an over pampered child of her father the only companion who raised her away from the shadows of sadness. This made her constantly think “no one, no one loves me as my father.” This opinion later changes when in a cry for help she writes to her father, the only reply he gives her is to “adjust” to her life a word, which he never taught her. Her husband, Gautama on the other hand was logical, an advocate vigorously building his career, and had no understanding of romance. Her constant demands at attention went futile and her love remained unfulfilled.
To keep her company were the servants with whom she never interacted beyond requirement, the pet dog, and her limited friends whose company did not help her much. She was a lonely housewife unaccustomed to the heat of Delhi and on the verge of rebellion and neurosis. The reason for the latter was triggered with the death of her dog which reminds her of another predicted death by the “albino astrologer” who deprived her of her childhood nanny(when her father came to know she was the cause of the visit, she was dismissed as a bad influence) and her sanity after marriage. According to the prediction, in the fourth year of her marriage, either she or Gautama was to die.
She was then haunted by the hallucinations and troubling images of a kathakali dancer’s eyes, the nightmares, the high fevers, headaches and finally unbearable sadness and loneliness. The psychological turmoil of impending doom in her romantic and hypersensitive soul makes her a neurotic which Gautama constantly teases her she will become because of the spoiled child she was made to be by her father. Her husband, unaware of her torture, is still busy in his life as an advocate. The only conversations he has with her are on detachment theory of the Gita. This further adds to her dismay as she longed for a moment of intimacy among the flowers of the garden and all she had was her own husband preaching detachment.
This theory ultimately makes Maya feel that Gautama should be the one to die as he is a staunch believer of detachment and death would not affect him. This thought alarms her as she is now on the verge of “murder” a word worming its way into her brain like the reptiles she dreams of. With the advent of autumn comes the peacock’s cry, the major symbol of the life of Maya and the Soul of the theme of the novel. The cries which sound like Pia, Pia meaning Lover, Lover and Mio Miomeaning I die, I die…. When combined say lover, I die.
As the astrologer describes it to her “Living, they are aware of death. Dying, they are in love with life. ‘Lover, lover,’ you will hear them cry in the forests, when the rain-clouds come, ‘Lover, I die…” Maya’s love is like that of the peacocks, she believes to be on the verge of death and yet wants to live and Gautama seems to be alive yet dead to her. In the end, her husband dies in her hands on a moonlight night when in a fit of neurotic admiration, Maya is in raptures over the moon the most beautiful thing in her life, and is interrupted by her husband. The involuntary decision is made and accidentally she sends him flying over the parapet and hence becomes the cause of his death. The peacock’s cry becomes hers when after a few days, waiting in her father’s house with her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law Nila, we get a pathetic and heart wrenching description of her state as her in laws recall the incident of her husband’s death “It had to be one of us, you see, and it was so clear that it was I who was meant to live. You see, to Gautama it didn’t really matter. He didn’t care, and I did.” Her smiles, her caresses, her calm certainty of their complete understanding.” The horror was inexplicable for her mother-in-law. Later Maya is diagnosed of madness and is to be sent to an asylum. The book end s with the words “then they heard the patter of a child’s laughter cascading up and down the scales of some new delight-a brilliant peacock feather perhaps? Then it stopped, suddenly, and they heard a different voice calling, shrilly and desperately, from some unimaginable realm of horror, calling out in great dread…. All around the dark was quiet then.”
Critics say Maya dies in the end, I believe she is dead to the real world. She, an illusion remains an illusion with the peacock’s cry as her only companion reminding of her guilt and sadness in her own mad world where she arrived as a cause of her indifferent husband and her overprotective father who didn’t know how to raise a child. Oppression of a woman and her loneliness are beautifully executed by Desai and the book went on to win the Sahitya Akademi award. Desai is known for her portrayal of the psychological distress of women through the technique of the stream of consciousness with expertise. Cry, the peacock rightfully earned my tears for Maya.