Reviewed By Ghana Kakati
A brother more powerful in death than in life, more operatic in absence than in presence, long dead and gone yet alive, relentlessly keeps haunting and harrying the people of his family, traversing far beyond its geographical boundary, long unto the back-end of their tragic tale. This is what happens in 'The Lowland'. Lahiri’s second spell-binding novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2013, the Man Booker Prize 2013 and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2014.
The novel is about the all too devastating drama, merging into melodramatic, of individual ideologies at loggerhead.
It unfolds in Tollygunge, Calcutta, in the throes of the Naxalite Uprising during 1950s and 1960s.
Born just at a gap of fifteen months, Subhash and Udayan are inseparable brothers. One is a dead ringer, carbon copy of the other; one is “perpetually confused with other.” The more they are alike in physique and speech, the less they are so in their cherished interests and ideologies. Subhash, the elder, is essentially cautious right from his early childhood. He is obedient to his parents. He is dutiful.
Udayan, the younger, is the absolute antithesis. Histrionically angry, impulsive, rebellious and all for fighting corruptions rife everywhere, he is irresistibly drawn to Maoist revolutionary politics while Subhash leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in oceanography in distant Rhode Island, the USA.
Meanwhile, Udayan marries Gauri, a girl of his own choice against the acquiescence of his parents while getting himself fully enmeshed in the revolutionary activities. He is wanted by police in connection with insurgent activities and one day killed in action all too brutally. As soon as he receives the telegram of his death, Subhash comes back to India. With the hope of picking up the shreds of the shattered family and sparing Gauri, the hapless pregnant wife of his younger brother, the ordeal of untimely widowhood, he marries her against the wishes of his mother and takes her to America.
He brings up Bela, her girl child, with all the love and care of a real father despite the haunting fear of the inexorable exposure of the truth. Gauri, grossly selfish, ungrateful of Subhash’s great sacrifices, incapable of motherly sentiment, forsakes her husband and young daughter and moves to California in search of her own intellectual advantages.
The rest of the novel traces in terrifically intensive tone and lyrically pregnant prose which are Lahiri’s special forte Subhash’s relationship with Bela, her grief over her mother’s all too impetuous abandonment leading to her alienation from him and his aching efforts to reconstruct a life out of what is ultimately left behind.
Epical in dimension and exquisitely insightful in characterization, The Lowland is the mesmerising metaphor for the murky, soggy and weedy expanses where family ties are torn asunder by conflicting political and intellectual interests and ideologies.
Availability: Amazon India