Two stories that delve into an unsettling past: the first will haunt you; the second will tug at your heartstrings.
In the very first chapter, a little girl loses her home, her family and everything she has ever known. It’s a brutal beginning, as if to prepare you for worse.
The sleepy, coastal, fictional town of Jarmuli is not what you expect. When you meet her next, Nomi is a young woman who has just returned from Norway to retrace her past, on the pretext of making a documentary on this religious town.
She is in a train compartment with three elderly women from Calcutta going on a spiritual holiday together. You can’t help but wonder, if one of them had something to do with Nomi.
Throughout the novel, with every character – a photographer, the chaiwallah at the beach, a temple guide and more – you’re going to keep looking for clues, some sort of connection they might have with Nomi.
This novel is not a thriller. But it has the rare quality that makes your heart race. You’re no longer a mere spectator, you’re part of the very narrative – because what possible explanation can there be for just how desperately you begin looking for closure, some sort of happiness for that little girl you first met.
Over many flashbacks, you’ll piece together the many years Nomi spent at an ashram of an internationally-lauded guruji who sexually and physically abused the young girls.
That this is a fictional tale rattles you more so because it could very well be the story of countless young women. That her past continued to haunt her even when she was far away on another continent, makes her escape from the ashram bittersweet.
World Literature Today named Roy’s first novel
An Atlas Of Impossible Longing
(2009) as one of the 60 Essential English Language Works of Modern Indian Literature.
Sleeping On Jupiter
, her third, is too powerful, too haunting, too chilling for you to ignore.
Don’t Let Him Know
Amit Mitra finds a letter in his mother’s old address book, a letter from a lover from a lifetime ago. Romola is now a widow. And this letter had, decades ago when she was a newly-wed in America, changed her life. It is perhaps what unsettled her enough to insist they move back to Calcutta.
Don’t Let Him Know is journalist Sandip Roy’s debut book. And earlier this month it was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the biggest prize in the world for a collection of short stories.
Many of the stories are about what it means to be a gay man in India – a married one at that. There’s a story about being confronted by a former lover, and another about being confronted by the death of someone who could very well have been a former lover, but instead became a well-known actor. These are stories about growing up, growing old, and the dynamics of a family.
These 12 short stories form a novel. And the beauty lies in the way the fragments magically get woven into a whole, because each story and every character is so very relatable, you will find yourself using your imagination to fill the gaps.You don’t even have to read them in any particular order.
It will remind you of Jhumpa Lahiri in more ways than one. But that only makes the book very, very likeable. You must read it.
From HT Brunch, May 24
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