If you’re reading this, let me give you a warm hug. You’re one of the few kind and ardent readers I have got. In these times when nothing is really going hunky-dory, few instances of encouragement and warmth can go a long way for all of us. Also, sincere apologies for blogging rather infrequently. Currently, I am devoting most of my energies to CAT preparation and of course, the beginning of professional life is about to take place. Fortunately, I am able to relish the cloudy days we are blessed with these days in Bhubaneswar. Also, the first impressions of mist. More on that some other day.
Here I have just poured out my first thoughts on All the lives we never lived by Anuradha Roy.
A slow-burner. Frustrating and beautiful.
I love reading fiction as it provides me pure joy and sometimes, if I am fortunate, clarity, through the fog of the characters’ minds.
In the novel, the narrator Myshkin, a horticulturist in the fictional town of Muntazir (‘One who waits in expectation’) goes back in time, when a letter arrives, to the vast recesses of his memories trying to figure out why his mother left him and his family when he was just nine. The book is then evidently about what could have been but never did.
The book is as much political as it is personal. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, the backdrop of Independence and World War 2 is used not so much to imbue the narrative with a grand plot as to have a subtle effect on the destiny of characters and their plans. Some real people walk across the lives of the fictional characters and the exchange between them, especially Walter Spies (a famous German painter, curator, and musicologist) and Gayatri (the narrator’s mother), is magical. Rabindranath Tagore, lovingly called Rabi Babu, also adds his profound reflections.
Honestly, I must admit I was growing impatient at times powering through the prose. But there was not a single page where I didn’t pause and smile or reflect or maybe underline a paragraph only to come back to it later in the hope of extracting a little more. Myshkin’s poetic narration filled me with happiness. I especially liked the 1930s parts where a much younger Myshkin is trying to make sense of the world around him. Seeing the familiar and the unfamiliar through a child’s eye makes it authentic and real at once. The What-ifs… Ah well, they always ‘pulsate with the energy of every unopened letter‘.
One piece of learning for me (amongst many others) was to recognize the subtle patriarchal force Nek Chand (narrator’s father) could conjure in the garb of being educated and liberal. This was important to me. Because I come from a middle-class socioeconomic background where outright patriarchy, as shown in crude art/debate, is absent. A subtle and deeper patriarchy exists, which is somehow hard to crystallize and weed out. In the last two years, I have started to recognize this and I couldn’t be more ashamed of it. Nevertheless, the point remains, I could relate a lot with the social power structures Roy has created, and in fact, I made mental notes of what I don’t want to be. That’s the clarity part for me. And I am grateful to Roy for that.
Having said this, I will still hold the criticism that the book at times felt snail-paced; it was annoyingly wandering aimlessly sometimes.
This is the kind of book that grows on you with time and I just have this feeling that I will be kinder, much kinder, to the book with age and time.
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