Do you believe in destiny? Or energies? Or whatever it is that you call it? Do you think some things will only come to you at the right time, and some things, never.
I became aware of Undertow by Jahnavi Barua recently, when IG was full of it. Everywhere I looked, I saw Undertow. The beautifully haunting cover of the girl floating/drowning in the water was enough to allure me into buying it, throwing away the buying ban, LOL.
As Loya stands at the gate of the yellow house, all she could feel is un-belonging. The house that had seen her mother Rukmini’s birth, her childhood, and her gradual yet inevitable adulthood, feels cold to Loya, and so does the man who owns it, Torun Ram Goswami.
25 years ago, when Rukmini had married the “outsider” Alex, she had been disowned by her very own mother. Usha had been rigid even when Rukmini was leaving for her registered marriage, waking up in the room that had been her home for years, walking the corridors, her mother’s silence from the closed bedroom, stepping over the threshold, and seeing her father standing on the edge, for one last time. So when Loya, her daughter reaches the house that was once her home, one which she hadn’t seen or stepped in since the day she married against her mother’s wishes, Rukmini can do nothing but sit alone in her flat, in far off Bangalore, and wait for her return.
Loya feels no emotion for the man who is sitting in front of her, except anger. Why doesn’t he say anything? Does he know who I really am? Doesn’t he have an apology to make?
The man feels nothing but discomfort. Why now? Why after 25 years of silence, is she here? What does she want?
As the girl and the man spend weeks together, in the house that once tore their family, separating a daughter from her parents and another daughter from the family that she could have had, their lives intertwine like the creepers, forcing its way upwards, and claiming all that comes in the way.
Referencing back to what I wrote about destiny bringing things to us, I believe this book was brought to me by destiny, and that too at the right time. The story primarily focuses on familial relationships. My own family is terrifyingly similar to the one portrayed in the story. A headstrong, adamant mother, a much-in-love-with-his-wife father, and the children, broken in ways unseen to the eye. Growing up with such a demanding matriarch didn’t feel out of place, for in the 90s, we had little to no connection with the outside world and the insides of their homes. It was only after my marriage did I realize what a wreck I was, thanks to my husband. My anger issues underlined every relationship I made in my new home and every step I took to rectify, pulled me back to the abyss that I was always in, surrounded by unreal and out-of-place anger. Nevertheless, it took me a lot of patience and unwavering support from my husband to finally break free of that place, come out and see the light present in his world, and anchor myself to him.
Undertow is not just about one thing, it is Pandora’s box. It is about parenting and companionship, it is about family support and the lack of it, it is about recklessness and timidity, it is about love and loss, it is about apology and forgiveness, and most of all, it is about human ego and the inability to give it up. Usha didn’t know what her parenting had done to Rukmini, and with no support from Torun, it was easy for her to slip into the comfort that Alex had provided. The story exposes human families like never before, or unlike anything that I’ve read. Though the premise is eerily similar to The Dark Holds No Terrors by Shashi Deshpande and it could broadly be seen as Rukimini’s story for the years she was away from her family home, minus the nuances.
Fluid writing and clarity in the plot were the first two things that struck me when I started reading the book. Turning pages didn’t feel like a burden at all, though it did slack in the middle before picking up the required speed. Barua effortlessly drenches the majestic beauty of Guwahati with the water from the Brahmaputra. Oh, how much I wished to travel those roads, the mighty river flowing on one side and the enormity that mountains are, on another. The pages seemed too less for such a profound story.
A recommended read, be prepared to look deep within your own life and its choices.