AUTHOR- Jhumpa Lahri
PUBLISHED IN- 2013
I am on fire. The rate at which I am devouring books, it is unlike me. It is as if I am afraid that I would no longer cease to exist if I stop reading. I can’t say that it is beneficial for me. It sounds as if I am running away from something, almost afraid that I might lose myself to someone.
The book was a literary gem. As I am already acquainted with Lahri’s work, having read “Interpreter of Maladies” some years ago, it didn’t come out as a surprise with how unconventionally strong her delivery of content was. The story begins during post Independence era in India (Calcutta) with two brothers Subash and Udayan, born fifteen months apart. The two grow up with stark personalities, each different from the other but both with brilliant minds and a familiar love for the other. While Udayan stops his studies after his post graduation to join the naxals in protest against the goverment, Subash goes to America to continue his PhD. In later subsequent years, Subash learns from a letter addressed to him by Udayan that he had married an intellectual woman named Gauri and that he had left his political interests and continued tutoring children. Life progresses for Subash as he falls in love with Holly, a divorced mother who was a decade older than him. The relationship doesn’t last long when Holly decides to reconcile with her ex-husband. A letter saying that Udayan was killed, makes him go back to Calcutta. From Gauri he learns that Udayan had never left the naxals and that the police shot him infront of his family. Gauri was never truly welcomed hy her in-laws and now, as a widow, they tolerated her only because she bore the child of Udayan in her womb. Sensing lack of companionship in his life and the indifference of his parents against Gauri, Subash asks her to marry him and settle in America where he would be responsible for the unborn child. Gauri considers that as her only escape from the toxic environment that she was living in and agrees.
The rest of the book centres around the lives of Subash, Gauri and their daughter, Bela. Gauri, who could never fall in love for Subash, drowned herself in her studies in philosophy and neglects the upbringing of her daughter and ultimately leaves the both of them to live her life without any burden. Subash initially tries to be the caring husband and father but when Gauri leaves, he solely takes the responsibility of Bela who had aged 12 by then. The disapperance of her mother in Bela’s life caused a severe change in her and as she grew up, she grew farther from her father. She didn’t know that Subash was her step father yet. Life draws a full circle and after several ages, it was Bela in her forties, pregnant and in front of Subash’s door to ask for help in the upbringing of her child. Subash draws the analogy between Gauri being pregnant, coming with him, escaping Calcutta to start a new life and now his daughter doing the same. Unable to bear the thought of the same fate of Bela’s child, he breaks down and tells her the truth about Udayan and why her mother left. Initially angry, Bela forgives her father and loves him more for his constant support that she now understands, after being a mother herself. Meanwhile, Gauri had moved to California where she was a professor, delivering lectures. Gauri, now almost 70 years of age, wishes to know the whereabouts of her daughter and with an eventful encounter between her and Bela, she finds how much Bela hates her for leaving. Broken hearted, she travels to Calcutta one final time and visits the places that she had once known so well.
It was a pleasure to read a story like this which felt close to home. It is the minor details concerning the growing up in a typical middle class Indian household in the book that brought a joy to me. It was as if someone was writing your life story out there. there were several parts in the book that felt strong enough just to exist in itself. The initial sibling bond between the two brothers was a fun one to witness, especially when they learnt Morse code to convey messages within themselves, making it their own kind of a little world. I remember gasping loudly when I read that Udayan had died. It felt like “The kite runner” all over again.
The encounter between Gauri and Bela in their later life was a great scene, with each party displaying their brute emotions out in the open. For me, that chapter felt that the strongest one. Gauri’s remembarance of Udayan at every step of her life is what held her in moving forward in her life. Her love for him, so great that it refused a place for any other person to take, not even for their only daughter. Even Udayan’s mother, Bijoli went mad over the lose of her son. Reading those parts was utterly heart wrenching but neccesary all the same.
“Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold. Blindly planning for it, envisioning things that weren’t the case. This was the working of the will. This was what gave the world purpose and direction. Not what was there but what was not.”
“She learned that an act intended to express love could have nothing to do with it. That her heart and her body were different things.”
I personally love the above line. It helps reason the actions that I partake at times.
With all these heavy stuff that I have been reading, I need a break. Break from the reality checks and indulge myself in lands where making sense is not the main game. As I was talking about this book with my father, he asked me to read one of his favourite books next. That book had always been in my list but I am not prepared right now for some more serious subjects. I know how it feels when you hand over your beloved book to someone to read. You want the person to read it as soon as possible. You are eager to know how they feel about it, is it the same feeling that you possess for that book? I could sense all of these when he asked me to read it. It drove me back into a familiar childhood setting where he would buy books for me to read or ask me to read Paulo Coelho at the age of 9. I had missed this feeling immensely. So, whether or not I will take a break with a lighter book or start reading the book that just lies besides me, remains to be seen.