the mutt

Three posts about one author? I have to tell you why!

Posted in indian writing in english, Writing by grx20 on October 11, 2008

Over the last month, and more so over the last week, my two posts on Navtej Sarna have attracted a lot of attention. And WP Stats – which is quite awesome – tells me people are searching for information about him and his new book – and are being directed to my blog. That’s nice. Not because it drives traffic to my blog, because one of India’s least spoken about writers is well, being spoken about.

In my first post, I deliberately stopped short of reviewing his book – and directed readers to links that did so. I touched upon his style (albeit very cursorily) and in my second post, I merely announced the impending launch of his second book.

Judging by the interest it has raked up, perhaps it is time to have a more detailed post about his writing style and his first novel, We Weren’t Lovers Like That. (No spoilers).

The word ‘lyrical’ crops up in almost every review of Navtej Sarna’s ‘Lovers’. When I read it, I didn’t quite know how to describe it, I didn’t know ‘lyrical’ was the word. But the prose has an effect of carrying you forward, effortlessly. It’s fluid, easy, and takes you along in an easy flow. Throughout the book, small gems are tucked away, and flash when you find them, and then dim away, yielding to the next one. The point is – it doesn’t dominate the overall ambience of the story. It’s not his verbal brilliance that’s on show here. It’s the mood he creates.

For instance – the way he introduces the title of the book:
She did not say anything and our deal became clear to me. We were to care and not to show. We were to wrap up our love in banter and funny stories and if we hurt each other, it was not meant to matter. Enough people loved seriously, soberly. We weren’t going to be lovers like that.

‘Lovers’ is a love story in flashback. Aftab is running away from an imperfect past, a life of failures. He has failed his father, his wife has left him and he does the one thing he feels he can do best – run away. Aftab embarks on a journey to find the love he once ‘gave up on’. The scene when Aftab gives up on ‘Ro’ is described in a haunting way – and the last line has stuck in my head since I read it. Her eyes seemed to stare through me at some distant purple hills. I felt like I had been caught laughing in a room where somebody had just died. Behind her the sea was brutally blue in the sun, and the ships were still.

There is a sense of melancholy in the book – understandable – there is a lot of nostalgia of places taken away by time, innocence lost, simple joys of childhood giving way to new fangled ones and a past, that was so full of promise, betrayed. Given that, plus the premise of lost love, some might find the book sad – Aftab’s incessant wallowing can put off readers. It is, however, also a story of hope and faith and starting afresh.

The strength of the book, I feel, lies not so much in the story, as it does in Sarna’s language. While Rohinton Mistry gives me the impression of being a careful writer who deliberates and ponders over the choice of every word, Sarna’s writing has an easy feel to it. As if you and I could easily write the way he does. When asked in an interview how long it took him to write the book, Sarna replied, three years and another ten to get there.

Another key strength of Sarna’s novel, is that it doesn’t fall into some of the typical traps Indian Writing In English (IWIE) tends to – the diaspora drama, the partition saga, glorification of regional idiosyncrasies to make them appealing to a Western audience or family saga/family tragedy. It’s one of the few books that doesn’t labour under any heavy baggage – there is neither any intention or pretension of capturing the Indian psyche, the ethos of India … or any such jazz that IWIE sometimes gets caught up with.

It’s just a poignant story. One told very very well.


2 Responses

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  1. tushar said, on December 7, 2008 at 11:05 am

    i read the book. i agree with what u hav to say abt it.

    • the mutt said, on December 8, 2008 at 11:35 am

      Hi Tushar,
      It’s rare to come across people who’ve read it! Glad you enjoyed it. Have you read the new book, The Exile, yet?

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