Last weekend I was deep in my thoughts, thanks to Days of Longing by Nirmal K Verma, a translated version of ”Ve Din” by the same author, and translator as Krishna Baldev Vaid. Revolving around a person who is away from home in a foreign country, who meets someone so special that when the story ends, you are not able to decide whether Days of Longing was a happy book or a sad book?
The question kept creeping back in my mind whether this is a happy book or a sad book, and honestly, I am still in two minds. But one thing is for sure that this is one of the most moving works I have recently come across! Depending on one’s perspective, this book may seem to some readers as a sad story disguised as something nice or just a slice of life tale from the protagonist.
An Indian student is living in Prague from last two years and is spending Christmas holidays away from home. He is surrounded by other foreign students, Than Thun (TT) from Burma, Franz from Germany who is studying cinematography but is going nowhere with his choice and his eccentric girlfriend, Maria who is not able to get her visa so that she can leave Prague with Franz.
Much of their time is spent roaming around streets of Prague, drinking vodka or beer or sherry, go without hot water for days and no sleep more than a couple of hours, and constantly joking about living in “the city of empty pockets and full bladders” (because there are very few public urinals).
Now apart from these common characteristics and living style of an immigrant student, what you don’t see in Days of Longing is the typical pining for home feeling. There is no background story to the protagonist’s character, no feelings for the country and no late nights crying and desiring for mother’s touch. And this was a pleasant surprise for me because I was under the impression that there might be some Indian immigrant element in the story.
The only mention of home comes while conversing with TT, “We had left home at a stage when our childhood connections had been cut off and we hadn’t yet forged adult links with people and places,” he tells us, speaking of himself and TT, “Our homes seemed unreal from afar, like someone else’s homes, alien memories. They seemed meaningless, even ridiculous.”
Turn in the story comes when protagonist lands a temporary job as a translator for an Austrian woman Raina and her little son. Indy, our protagonist grows closer to Raina, and in three days time goes through a roller coaster of emotions. From hesitance to doubt, intense longing and jealousy built on the knowledge that Raina’s previous visit to Prague was with her now estranged husband, Jacques and she may be trying to rekindle the lost love by going through same spots she visited last time with him.
Very aptly Indy describes the feeling. “It bothered me,” he says, “I wanted her to look at everything for the first time. But she seemed to be keen about revisiting places she had already seen.” And then the simple yet powerful pathos of this line: “After knowing some people, one can’t help feeling one’s met them a bit too late.“It wasn’t age that separated us. It was her past, completely concealed from my knowledge. There are houses that you can’t really enter even through their wide open doors. They are alien, unpossessable.”
And this is exactly where I lost myself into Indy’s roller coaster of emotions. I wasn’t able to decide, whether I am happy for his content feeling or sad for his one-sided love. Also, if you are expecting that the story would give you a sense of closure, it stands true by its title. It makes you wait in anticipation that you may get to read more about Indy and Raina, and there may be a different end to this beautiful story.
I absolutely fell in love with everything in this novel. From the characters of Indy and Raina to the not-so-coming-of-age storyline which is a different genre to read. Days of Longing gives one message that it’s not necessary that every day will be a good day, and every story will be a good story. Nirmal Verma has left that to his readers to decide, and I really liked his style.