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'The Lowland' : A labyrinth of complicated relationships

By Shilpa Raina

Book: The Lowland; Author: Jhumpa Lahiri; Publisher: Random House India; Pages:339

Relationships and complications are two sides of a coin and are balanced by a delicate thread of compromise, seeking commitment from everyone. Failing to contribute, if any, causes estrangement for a family whose generations struggle to reconcile for years to come.

The essence of Indian author and Pultizer Prize winner’s latest offering, “The Lowland” shortlisted for 2013 Man Booker prize and the US National Book Award, revolves round the simple concepts of bonding and sharing, love and sacrifice, sufferings and misunderstandings spanning around three generations who continue to grapple with void and emptiness throughout their lives.

Brothers Subhash and Udayan have been inseparable since childhood. Udayan, 15-months-younger, is bold, fierce and impulsive. Living in the lowlands of Tollygunge in south Kolkata, they are innocent and mischievous and an extremely intelligent duo. There is nothing that could separate them – till the flames of the Naxalbari movement in the early 1970s create ideological differences between them. Slowly, they embark on their independent journeys.

Subhash, unaffected by the movement, leaves for Rhode Island in the US for his doctorate, while Udayan stays back to support and participate in the movement, strongly believing in its ideology and the changes it could bring to the country. Adapting to a new scenario, Subhash gets consumed in his world and the only mode of communication with his brother are letters informing about the space he is no longer interested in. Through these letters, he is introduced to his sister-in-law Gauri, as Udayan, as per his ways, chooses to marry the girl he loves and not the one approved by his family. As the letters continue, a telegram arrives announcing Udayan’s death.

Subhash comes back to Tollygunge and to his home, yet not feeling at home. Moved by many factors, he offers to marry Gauri – a move opposed by his parents. Still, he goes ahead not knowing the decision would later estrange his relationship with all of them.

The narrative from here takes a different course, where Udayan is felt in each and every action of Gauri, who is juggling with the fate she couldn’t reconcile with. Married twice in two years, her new life in Tollygunge is met with more silence and nostalgia while she is struggling to keep traces of her first husband out of her life.

Compromising for a few years, she takes a drastic step in the later part of her life, severing all ties with her husband and daughter because she could not make them a part of her existence. Her inability to cope with the unpredictability of life and its courses, and much because a part of Udayan was still alive in her, somewhere, refusing to die, leads to this step.

The author’s strength undoubtedly lies in creating a fluid visual imagery that transports the reader into a world she wishes them to live in, breathe in and get completely absorbed by. The reader is given the liberty to sketch these characters, as not much effort has been wasted in describing them, but a great detail of effort has been put into dealing with complexities of situations, human actions and reactions and our irreparable memory that refuses to detach itself from attachments we all have in life.

These are not larger-than life characters but everyday mortals who are driven by emotions and can be weaker, selfish and naive while dealing with circumstances they are not prepared with. Estranged relations are a result of unhappiness but also because of the lack of compromises one refuses to make till one gets into the shoes of others.

It’s a your’s and mine story. It’s our story. It’s a simple story fathoming the complexities of relationships.

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