A good book isn’t necessarily one which keeps you glued to it for hours. Having said that, Anita Nair’s Lessons in Forgetting was all that and more! I read it in a tearing hurry to get to the end, while simultaneously wanting to prolong it.
It has two stories which intertwine in an unexpected manner.
Meera is a corporate wife, domestic goddess, fulfiller of wants and desires of everyone in the household and beyond. Her husband walks out on her and their two children without a warning, leaving her to fend for herself and take care of the family, which includes her mother and her maternal grandmother.
J.A.Krishnamoorthy, or Jak as he is known, is a father on a quest to find out about his teenage daughter’s last days before she was rendered comatose due to a freak accident. Retracing the events and knowing what happened might give him some closure he feels and, maybe, even allow him to move on and live a normal life, free of regret. A key lost in the waters of the past could open the lock hanging heavy in the present.
Meera needs a job to support her family and finds one in the neighbourhood, under Jak, a cyclone studies expert.
Meera identifies with Hera, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, who is the sister and wife of Zeus. She sees herself in relation to her husband as a wife, a mother to her children and a daughter to her mother, never as her own woman with an independent identity of her own. We feel her fear and sense her helplessness. How she comes to terms with the situation, takes charge and makes peace with her present, forms the rest of the story.
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- My favourite character in the book is Nikhil, Meera’s son. His quiet sensitivity, understanding how the situation has changed at home and taking charge of things in his own way, is endearing. We practically see him growing up. Though younger to Nayantara, his older sister, he is more accepting and understanding of the situation than her.
- Anita Nair lays it bare, the unvarnished truth and does not hide behind allusions; the delicate moments, the emotions wrung out of words, unafraid to tell the story she wants to tell. She does not take a moral stand and that is refreshing.
- She tells her story with a woman’s sensibility that only a woman can bring , except for Tagore who had a deep understanding of the psyche of women.
- The intimate scenes in the book form a natural part of the story; they’re not artificial voyeuristic embellishments included to increase the oomph quotient.
- The old rambling Lilac house where Meera and her family stay, is a character in itself. Four generations live there together; they coexist peaceably if not in complete harmony – Meera’s grandmother and mother on one side, and Meera’s husband and children on the other side.
- How Meera comes into her own, will resonate with many women, who take care of their families and are looked down upon for not having a ‘paying’ job.
- The essence of Lessons in Forgetting is letting go of the past — then one can somehow live with whatever disappointment life has saddled one with, and have a shot at redemption.
“…about ringing the bells which can still be rung”
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- Meera’s storyline felt weaker and her struggles seemed inconsequential when juxtaposed with the narrative which told Jak’s story because it had more layers and elements.
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- Splitting the novel into different parts, each named after the different stages of a cyclone, was quite unique.
- The characters with their back stories, their hopes and dreams, weaknesses and vulnerabilities were real for me; their lives closer to our own, and the situation not so far removed from reality, because in many parts of our country the male child is still preferred over the girl child. I wanted more – female infanticide was just touched upon though the subject was crucial to the plot.
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- Something horrific happens to Smriti, Jak’s daughter which is revealed at the very end. I was expecting a violent assault given the condition she was in, but I wasn’t prepared for the brutality. Parental guidance is advised for younger readers as it deals with female foeticide and infanticide, infidelity, rape and male dominance.
A riveting read.