An author turns 60. The local political party has organized a celebration in his honour. He himself feels like a cheat, he has not written in 2 years, he feels he can never write again, he feels old. He feels defeated by life, by the worry of money, by the anxiety for his children. But he knows he has to write, the money is running out.
On a walk, he sees a marriage procession pass by, and two boys stop beside him, on the side of the road, to let it pass. The boys comment on how rich people squander their money, while people like them struggle to make a living.
Those two boys become his protagonists, Ramesh and Lacchu, and through them, the author Arvind shows us a microcosm of India, just after the Sino-India war in 1962, when the ideals of the freedom movement, the Congress Party and Nehru were feeling tarnished. There was disillusionment, hopelessness, corruption everywhere. And also rebellion. The ideas of socialism, communism, feudalism, individualism struggle with each other. But all of them are tainted with selfish motives, with a human being’s limited understanding of the world through his/her own emotions and own desires.
The 477-page book Amrit aur Vish, (Hindi, 1966) by Amritlal Nagar,
based in Lucknow, by the river Gomti, races through many, many events. Inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage, flood, fire, arson, riots, elections, affairs, foreign tours, suicide, murder, cheating, politics, student unrest, strikes, demonstrations, curfew, intoxication, superstition, elopement, flirtations, rape, education and jobs for women, and much, much more.
I could not help thinking that there was material enough in the book to make a 5-year long TV serial. India’s reality does not seem to have changed much in these many years, and the book addresses issues that plague us still, it feels contemporary.
There are several characters, their stories, the stories of their fathers and grandfathers, their histories. The book moves from one person to another, describing a world that is interlinked, where the actions of one person impact another, in this life, and also perhaps through lifetimes.
The idea of Karma is what sustains the author in the end. As he finishes the long book, he feels more confident about life, satisfied, beyond his own concerns. But life has not done with him yet; it deals him another blow, perhaps one that will destroy him. But at the end, he realizes that through thick and thin, the only thing one can do is act, do, continue doing. Life is nectar, and life is poison.
I like reading long books, being involved in other lives from another world for an extended period of time. This book was also interesting to me in how the author’s world and his novel connect to each other, in how a small glimpse of 2 boys on the road, leads to the creation of an entire fictional world.
And the idea of keep writing, keep writing.
I have been stuck often enough in my writing by my life, the problems that seem to engulf me at the time, by the fear that what I am writing is not good enough. For some time, my writing skills have been overpowered by an ongoing voice in my head, worrying, cribbing, pushing.
I began reading this book, and I began writing the voice in my head. Simple, really.