Lessons In Forgetting

Anita Nair’s fourth book, Lessons in Forgetting, is a dark, reflective work, the two primary characters — Professor J. Krishnamurthy, Jak to friends, and Meera — continually revisiting their past to make sense of their present. Meera is trying to cope with a marriage that failed overnight and Jak is looking for the truth behind his vivacious 19-year-old daughter’s catatonic state. The unpredictability of nature is a significant character, too, as the author draws metaphoric parallels with cyclonic turbulence to take the narrative forward. A beautiful setting, a gentle disturbance, its swelling violence and sudden impact are followed by destruction, shock and despair. Then, the turnaround, recovery and new beginnings.

Meera, cool, poised, writer of cookbooks, and the epitome of a perfect society hostess and corporate wife, is left holding the reins of her family and a rambling old family home in Bangalore when her husband, Giri, disappears without a word. Jak, tempestuous and volatile, much like the cyclones he studies, is devastated when his daughter, Smriti, slumps into coma after a vicious attack while on holiday at a beachside town.

The story moves to and fro chronologically as the reader is introduced to far-from-perfect characters: multi-faceted, complex with strong emotions, desires, fears and strengths, and easily identifiable. Of note are the idealistic, fearless Smriti and her wannabe actor boyfriend, Rishi; the terrified, yet determined Chinnathayi; a thirteen-going-on-adult Nikhil; and the mild-mannered, yet intimidating Srinivasan.

With a keen eye on the market (Lessons in Forgetting will soon be available in celluloid), human emotions remain the focus of the book even as the author takes an intense look at marriage, parenthood, destiny and relationships. It is packed with occurrences that unapologetically debunk recognised culture and convention.

Midlife angst, corporate lifestyle, teenage trauma, nature and salvation unhurriedly come together to take the narration to a predictable conclusion; thankfully sans maudlin tones even as woeful episodes churn the lives of the main protagonists. Love, dependency and betrayal; female infanticide; page three parties; the book has it all. Including a curious, somewhat contrived, comparison of Meera with Hera, the Greek Goddess of Love and Marriage.

As I turned the last page of Anita Nair’s “most intense and complex novel”, in her own words, I was left with a sense of unfinished business. Still, Lessons in Forgetting is ultimately a story about real people, about forgiveness and second chances for everyone. It is ultimately a story about individuals in deep crises coming together to offer succour to each other. It is ultimately a story told by an accomplished storyteller who may oftentimes touch upon stodgy topics. It is ultimately a story that deserves a chance.

NOTE: This review appeared in The Tribune today.

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