Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold……..This was what gave the world purpose and direction. Not what was there but what was not.
THE LOWLAND, the latest novel from Jhumpa Lahiri is a tale bound by these lines, encompassing the fateful story of flawed characters who trudge through life proving the alarming truth implicit in this simple fact in the broader scheme of life. As expected it was with a lot of anticipation that I turned over the book cover to go through the blurb as soon as I got my copy of the book delivered.
This novel is about two brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra, hailing from Calcutta of the 1960s, the era when Bengal was torn by the Naxalite movement, each brother different from the other and yet a replica, a testament of the other’s existence for the outside world, for their parents, for their relatives— inseparable, kindred spirits. They are expected to be together throughout their lives, through every turbulence thrown their way, but it is the inert difference between their deepest natures that pull them apart and fling them in two different directions on this earth never to let them walk together again and yet the kinship born of blood keeping them tied till the very end, past life, past death, through decisions made, through a life lived.
The strongest emotion that this novel evokes is one of suffocation—- the suffocation of overwhelming, selfish love—-the love that Gauri feels for Udayan surpassing every other emotion, every other logic and rationale. The short few years in which Gauri gets to know Udayan, gets to feel an hitherto inexperienced resonance with him, gets to feel inflamed by his radical thoughts, his fiery ideas, his wild passion, the two years she gets to spend as his wife keeps her wrapped in its shroud all her life, instigating every decision she takes, making her strong, unmovable, irascible and selfish beyond a point of forgiveness. In her attempt to move on with life after the ruthless murder of her beloved in front of her very eyes she finds herself, her identity, her place in this world and yet during the same process she loses herself, loses the essence of her womanhood, the essence of love from her heart. A fierce longing for a life lost, a fierce anger on Udayan for leaving her alone in the journey of life give her an intense need to escape from her life, from her responsibilities as a mother to Udayan’s child. This devastating love that she nurses in her entire being for Udayan never wanes leaving her unable to love her only child, or even herself for that matter or worse the man—-her brother-in-law, her second husband who rescues her from getting thrown aside as a widow in the cruel, uncaring house of her in-laws.
In her inability to get herself back to the groove of her life she not only destabilises her own place in the world but she jeopardises the lives and emotions of the ones tied to her as well. Udayan’s love gets so deeply rooted inside her that it uproots her from the future where he is absent.
The other major character in the book Subhash is the man who gets dragged along, invisibly, unintentionally by the oppressive power of the bond that his younger brother shared with his wife— a woman Subhash takes as his own wife disregarding societal pressures because of his benevolence, because he wants to protect the person whom his brother had loved, hoping foolishly that in the course of their lives Gauri would grow to love him as a husband, as family. But it’s only a daughter that he gets in the relationship, a girl he calls Bela, a girl sired by his brother, a girl to whom he devotes all his life and love as a parent. In the end, through all the murky holes that Gauri inadvertently creates in their lives it is this unyielding, truly beautiful relationship that develops and blossoms between two fractured souls, Subhash and Bela—that of a father and a daughter.
Jhumpa’s mesmerising dexterity, tactful pace and elegance, is once again the highlight of this story. The Pulitzer prize winning author is known to bring out complex emotions, fleshing out striking characters. The haunting beauty of this story lingers on even after the end is reached and the character that definitely stands out is that of Gauri, a woman at once deplorable and vulnerable. This book being nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2013, the National Book Award for fiction and for Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction is only a very small salute to this work.
The Lowland priced at Rs 499 is definitely a book to be picked up for the pure pleasure of relishing a haunting story, living through it and emerging altered with the emotions invoked by it.