All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Letters. Those intimate little bits of paper and ink that hold many worlds, some known and some hidden. A best friend who takes all our secrets and refrains from being judgemental. Also, an enemy who slays every icy vein and renders us defenceless. A lap that cradles at night to keep our insomnia at bay. Also, a gust that denudes our pretences and tramps on our breathing. Of many dimensions and flights – of success and euphoria, of defeat and grief, of desire and melancholy, of murder and regret, of timidity and guilt, of opportunities and lost chances – are letters.
And they emerge as the only thread binding a mother and her son, separated not just by miles but times too.
The novel opens in India’s pre-independence era, when the freedom movement is gathering steam and towards its many patriotic bellows, are thronging the intent and purposes of young men and women. Nek Chand Rozario is one amongst them. Considerably liberal but uptight in certain principles, he shall do his bit when the nation’s call comes. But his feisty, free-spirited young wife, Gayatri has her heart set on something completely different – art. Despite the road of freedom she has been allowed by her husband, her soul yearns to abandon it for the sea. And it does, one day, when the Germans, Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete, come visiting the couple. The painter Spies spots his kin in Gayatri and eventually, turns into the rescue boat riding on whom Gayatri leaves her home for good to pursue her dream. Soon after, Nek Chand too, renounces his routine and marches out to answer the nationalistic fervour. And thus, her only regret, becomes the biggest casualty – Myshkin. A boy, all of 9, abandoned.
Fast forward half-a-century. When the quiet horticulturist, Myshkin, who has lived his life in the hazy blanket of his mother’s memories, suddenly receives a bunch of letters from her, several wounds come undone and his life veins are sluiced in love and regret, pain and peace.
In Anuradha Roy’s compelling work, the pendulum sweeps all the way from the 1920s to the 1970s, and in its throes remain captive, Gayatri and Myskhin, like little fossils who have a story of their own even when they are no longer vocal or valid in this world. The juxtaposition of political currents (in British-India and Nazi-Germany) and individual agencies is deftly done, with the masterful amalgamation of fictional and real personalities imparting additional glitz. But what really reaches home is the prose – its lightness, akin to a dream that powers direction and action. Practically no one is driving the story; it is simply going on. Much like life. And the letters which continue to regale with the vignettes of journeys taken, and missed.