Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I am happy, giddy with contentment! I want to personally thank Jhumpa Lahiri for writing this book, defining all characters so well and describing their emotions with so much sensitivity. Bear hug to you Jhumpa!

The first few chapters beautifully describe the developing bond between two brothers of a middle class family during their growing up years in Calcutta, West Bengal. They have distinct personalities, distinct views, differing approach to life and yet their closeness and respect for each other is abundant . Udayan, the carefree, unbridled, rebelious  child and Subhash, the responsible elder brother who carefully measures his each step before taking it.

Just when the book starts to give the feel that it will revolve around the lives of these two boys, it starts to venture into the Naxalbari movement taking West Bengal and the rest of India by storm in the post independence period. It talks about the plight of poor farmers and the insensitivity of the government and civic bodies towards them , pushing them towards a violent revolution. The book describes the situation in Bengal marked by revolts  by sympathizers of the naxalbhari movement  against the impassiveness of the government on the issue and the freedom of action given to the local police to curb the uprising. Jhumpa's narrative of the turmoil in Bengal gives a picture on why many  intellectuals, influenced by Maraxist-Leninist ideas, were not able to accept the treatment being meted out to the poor and joined the movement to fight for their rights. The leaders of the movement at the time i.e Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal were committed to the movement even though their own financial circumstances were good and they were not born into poverty.

Just when  the book gives a feel that it is devoted to Naxalbari movement and it's cause, Jhumpa reverses the tide again. Udayan, who is influenced by the Naxalbari movement gradually becomes a part of it and is killed in a police encounter.  His brother Subhash returns from USA, where he is pursuing his higher studies, for his last rites. From there on wards the book revolves around Subhash and Gauri, who is Udhayans wife and pregnant with his child, their decision to get married and move to USA so that Subhash can give Gauri and her daughter an unhindered respectable life ahead.

Although the later part of the book concentrates on a few characters and the way their lives shape out,  Jhumpa has chalked out these characters and their complexities well. It's difficult to tear away from the book...I wanted the book surgically glued to my hand till I finished it, loving every bit of it.

In the end, it was a pure bliss to have book in my hand that I didn't want to tear away from and which made me sad when I completed reading it because this how far Jhumpa allowed us to go on a journey with her characters. Although the book can be summed up as a narrative on the lives of the 2 brothers, the same girl they both marry and the child who is born out of these marriages, it touches my heart because these characters live life on their own terms. They are complex characters, rebels who emerge victorious from the tumultuous circumstances that life tests them against.

It's a Pulitzer award winning book and there is no questioning why. The author knows how to spin an entertaining yarn!