Home, family, identity, the modern condition of love, classical maturity, these are literary tropes and patterns that novels never tire of delving into. Here are three recent fictional titles that navigate the cultural tensions and contradictions of our time in search of the light. It is the light that never quite goes out, from the stars and galaxy to the shimmer of gold to the functional white of the humble bulb.
THERE ARE SENTENCES in The Illuminated that linger like moonbeams fading into a dawning dawn. Poornima, a strong and fiery domestic helper in the novel, enjoys seeing the moon in the morning as much as she enjoys telling a good story. “If you are lucky, and if you are approaching the full moon, you can see it in the morning, Didi,” Purnima tells her beloved employer, Shashi, towards the end of the book.
Poornima is the full moon, a beacon of climax and achievement. When the time comes for a resolution, author Anindita Ghose utters yet another beautiful line that reads like unattached truth, perhaps a key to the lunar language of her first novel: “All that is important comes to us.” in the moonlight: dreams, babies, shiuli blooms.
Sleek, witty, and wise, The Illuminated is also diligent in how he tracks down the subtle ways in which women suffer the depredations of power imbalances. The gracious and tea-lover Shashi Mallick has the perfect match. Her handsome, loving husband, Robi, is North Calcutta royalty and a successful architect. Shashi’s daughter, the Sanskrit scholar Nayantara, is tall and proud. Not used to being rejected or denied, she loses the sense of herself in a short affair that completely crushes her, to recreate it.
The novel opens a week after Robi’s death in New Jersey, at their son Surjo’s home. It then proceeds to exquisite reminiscence, reflects and reveals the family knots and weaves of the Mallick house of Kolkata in New Delhi, the dangerous, often ludicrous, intrusions of right-wing fanaticism, the healing prospects of the mighty Dhauladhars and crystal worms. by Bhartrihari and Bilhana.
The churning that follows Robi’s sudden death turns out to be the gateway to a whole new realm of light that burns with its own magnificence. Resolution can shake and ruffle. But the real triumph is in the way the two central characters of Shashi and Nayantara are chiseled with knife-like precision.
Through Anindita ghose
published by Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
Price Rs599, pages 312
THE DELICATE DANCE of the drift in and out, the hazy attachments and indecisions of modern love, identity, dislocation, home and belonging, all find their moment of glow in Keeping in Touch by Anjali Joseph. But the inability to keep in touch, to let people fade and disappear, is anchored by the intriguing device of a bulb called here Everlasting Lucifer – a “stronger than an LED” bulb, built to last. 40 to 50 years old. The harmless consumer product almost functions as a deliberate counterpoint to the book’s cowardly, unimaginative characters, perhaps telling readers that human consciousness has remained the same for thousands of years.
Ved, a 37-year-old London venture capitalist, has given up on having a stable relationship. He almost feels relieved at the end of his brief adventures, even though he loves the women he dates. Ketaki, 39, is an independent “curator” of arts and design in Guwahati; tall, attractive, with long slanted eyes, she is “tired of winning” with men, her composure being her most dazzling quality. When the two meet in the Executive Lounge at Heathrow Airport, Ved is instantly drawn to her. Their stories are interwoven with the curious light bulb factory in Jorhat, Assam, in which Ved wishes to invest. What follows is Ved’s assiduous attempt to woo the ever-elusive charmer that is Ketaki.
The Everlasting Lucifer follows the characters from Jorhat to Bombay to London to Majuli. Funny complaints from users are surfacing about this “smart filament,” like its fizzing and bursting during a political party meeting. Among other things, the book reminds us that the lights and lamps we choose to bask in affect how we think and see the world.
To stay in contact
Through Anjali Joseph
published by Background, Westland
Price Rs599, pages 222
WHEN NEIL NARAYAN was a clumsy teenager in the outskirts of Georgia, he heard the story of the “Bombayan gold digger” one afternoon. Otherwise known as the “Hindu,” the fortune-seeker may have been the only man of his race to follow the California gold rush of the 19th century. The storyteller offers Neil – who struggles (and fails) to integrate, to act and to dream like a “model minority” which rushes towards Harvard – the possibility of rethinking the history of his people in this promised land.
“I had thought that the first Indians arrived much later, but think: the gold rush! Such an American phenomenon and one of ours running in the midst of it. It makes you a little proud, doesn’t it? asks Uncle Ramesh that afternoon at the library. Neil (or Neeraj) feels an easier kinship with this unnamed man in history, much more real than the ancestry his parents nurtured him. “What if this is my land after all?” Neil wonders. In Sanjena Sathian’s first novel, Gold Diggers, concerns about the dislocation of the immigrant experience are recast, literally, in the amber light of gold.
The mother-daughter duo of Anjali and Anita Dayal know the formula for making the American dream come true: stealing various gold jewelry from those who emit a certain searing energy and light called “ambition”. In a basement, the glittering loot is pulverized and mixed with lemonade. This golden brew made from the ancient metal is the magic potion that Neil and Anita become addicted to in conflict. From their teenage years in the Georgian suburbs to their emotional wasteland in San Francisco Bay, the novel wonders where one really comes from this Golden Gate Bridge.
Through Sanjena Sathian
published by HarperCollins
Price Rs599, pages 326