10 days with The Lives Of Others, a period of a glimpse into inhuman times via family saga. A family saga set between pre-independence Calcutta, plagued by colonialism, famine and the aftershocks of World War II, and the Calcutta of the 1960s, where students are embracing Marx, the Grateful Dead, and heroin.
A novel of unflinching power and emotional force, The Lives of Other by Neel Mukherjee introduces you to the Ghosh family and the Kolkata of 1960’s. In the horrific prolog, in the year 1966, a laborer reeling from drought and fighting with death every day, slaughters his family and then intakes a deadly dose of insecticide. But what would a laborer dying of drought have from Ghosh’s living in peace and comfort? The answer lies in the family scion Supratik, who leaves the comfort of home to live with landless peasants and displaces tribal folk, the “others” in the book.
The Lives of Others is split in two narrations, one narration from Supratik, who is writing letters to an anonymous person (you will get to know who it is by the end of the novel), describing his daily life living with ignored sect of the society, one of the key reasons why Naxalites were born. Through Supratik’s letters, you understand how much the Maoists movement was going on during the time when India recently got it’s independence but then went again into the slavery of foolish politicians.
The second narration is by a third party, which makes you stay with the Ghosh family, three generations living under one roof, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. Each set of member occupies the floor in the family according to their standing in the family. Rivalries among sister in laws, the implosion of the family business and dark secrets spilling out in the open, have reduced Ghosh’s family name to an outcast in the society. Ambitious, rich and in-compassionate, The Lives of Others is a heartfelt novel, something you need to take into slowly and let it flow in your blood.
Shortlisted for 2014 Man Booker Prize, The Lives of Others deserves a Booker Prize according to me. The novel has everything, a political situation affecting the central system of a family. At one hand the family scion has run away to understand the situation of political turmoil in the country, on the other hand, the Ghosh family deals with a new crack in their lives almost every day. It’s like living inside a tornado, never stopping, never resting. Brothers Adinath, Bholanath, Purab fighting for what is right and what is wrong in their business, dealing with repercussions of bad decisions their father, Prafullanath made. Somnath, the fourth brother who died while raping a tribal woman, has left repercussions for his widow to deal with. Treated like an outcast, she is confined to downstairs quarters in one corner with her kids. Chaya, the sister, time to time creates a ruckus in the home, putting out her frustration of not being married, thanks to being overqualified, dark-skinned and with a squint in the eye, something that cannot be ignored in the elite Bengali society. The third generation, some of them dealing with drugs and some of them converting into a mathematical prodigy, The Lives of Other has it all.
The Lives of Others is like a journey where you can devour into an unspoken time when Bengal was in turmoil thanks to political changes, twice Presidential rule, Naxalites burning everything for their voice to be heard and business closing down. Farmers committing suicide due to drought, villagers frolicking towards the city in search of food, water, and shelter. But in turn, left dying in the streets.
The Lives of Others is one of those books that will leave a deep impact on you. I have read my own share of books based on Naxalites, Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita, Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, but nothing comes close to this scary yet beautiful account. The books is a bit tad long, 560+ pages, took me almost 10 days to finish, but it is all worth it.
Something that you should not miss!