Anuradha Roy's book All the Lives We Never Lived recently won the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2022 in the English language category. Image: AmazonN
o straight lines for women?
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," goes the first line of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
I was reminded of it when I read the opening line of Anuradha Roy’s book, ' All the lives we never lived.' She writes, "in my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman."
This review comes close on the heels of International Women's Day and in the middle of women's month. Hence, we are celebrating a breakthrough Indian woman author, whose lexical lyricism makes reading effortless. And thankfully, she does not celebrate perfection. Her flawed heroine Gayatri makes choices that could seem strong or escapist - from the reader's perspective.
Here are our Bootstrapping insights:
The protagonist Abhay Chand, aka Myshkin Rozario, numbed by his mother's escape, remembers her worrying, disappearing act at the circus in an oddly foreboding flashback.
Abandoned once at age nine and wary of being hurt again, Myshkin chooses the companionship of plants and trees. “They ask only that you are regularly, consistently, caring and watchful,” Myshkin says. “I was.”
The embrace between Myshkin and his father after his second marriage is described as clumsy. "We were both stiff as tree branches", he says. Vivid!Also read: Bookstrapping: Ganesh Natarajan and Ejaz Ghani offer a collection of essays to simplify India's post-independence journey
Later, we learn that Gayatri, the mother has her own artistic passions; she was struggling in her marriage, at a time when women’s freedoms were held at bay. Myshkin gets to know her in his sixties, when he opens a package of letters that she sent to her best friend, Lisa, with instructions that they be passed on to him. A loveless marriage, a broken childhood, and an awkward family. Plus a historical setting in turmoil. The canvas of the novel is vast and brave.
I couldn't help but pin ' freedom' as the overpowering quest of all characters in the book. Freedom for a woman, a nation, a child and how different their bondages are!
And even if you understand the mother, you prepare to dislike her. After all, nothing can condone child abandonment! Evoking such emotion may be the book's greatest victory.Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist and bestselling biographer. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ On Twitter @OfficialReetaRG.