All the lives We Never Lived – Anuradha Roy

Author – Anuradha Roy

Publisher -Hachette India

Pages-362

Format read- ebook

kindleandkompass rating – 4.5/5

1937. Muntazir, a fictional Himalayan Village,Myshkin , a 9 years old boy is abandoned by his mother. The village folks mention about her going away with an English man. In a year’s time the boy is again abandoned by his father who involves himself in the freedom movement.Decades later, Myshkin receives a cache of letters from his mother.Things begin to unfold through the letters.

The story begins with Myshkin now the 60 year old horticulturist narrating incidents from 1937, the evening when he comes home from school only to realize that his mother Gayatri has abandoned him to pursue her dreams of being an artist . Gayatri is a young free spirited women with dreams of living a life on her way with pastels and canvases. She is befriended by a German artist Walter Spies and an English ballet dancer Beryl. They make their way out of India to the picturesque islands of Bali. Within a year of Gayatri’s leaving , Myshikn’s father Nek Chand breaks from his principled routine life, gets involved in the freedom struggle and abandons the little boy. Thereafter the boy’s life takes a different shape and he devotes his life to things that takes roots and stands still – trees.

The story unfolds in 3 parts : the early life of Gayatri and Nek, the pre-independence period where Myshikin records his life events , and the 3rd part in the form of epistolary that records of Gayatri’s life as an ambitious artist who yearns for her son. Though the first part comes elaborate and flat, the remaining two compensates for it with excellent narration and pace of story line.

I was about to cycle off when she called out,”Wait, get off that bike and come here.”
She hugged me tight for a long minute , kissed me on top of my head and then on my forehead. I wriggled hard to break free, I was not used to sticky displays of affection from her, it made me awkward and self -conscious.But her touch sent a current of joy through me and I cycled away hoping she saw how fast I cycled through the puddles,churning up slush.

“Remember what I said!” she cried out. Don’t be late.”

“I’ll be back in time”, I shouted. “I’ll cycle fast.”

Roy’s language is exquisite and mesmerizing making oneself live in the skin of the characters. The epistolary steals one’s heart and that propels the readers till the very last page. I was personally moved by the hollowness in Myshin’s life and how acutely he misses his mom. I was filled with awe by Gayatri’s courage to undertake a journey that’s indefinite and the traumatic aftermaths that brings to her familia. A few lines touched me so deep that made me hug my little boy with wet eyes, though I don’t have even the faintest idea of pursuing my dreams at the cost of sleepless nights of a child.

Roy amalgamates a few historical characters in her book; poet Rabindranath Tagore, the German artists Walter Spies and the English Ballet dancer Beryl. The Nazis, the Jews, the Dutch and Mahatma sojourn in the book.It is interesting to read a little about the real characters in a fiction. Roy’s research about the World war 2 is thoroughly evident by the way she portrays the plight of her fictional & the historical characters in different part of the British Colonies between 1917-1942.

As a child, I would place my back against one of our trees and feel its reassuring solidity, its immobility. It was not going to move, it would never go anywhere, it was rooted to its spot. For as long as they are alive, trees remain where they are. This is one of life’s few certainties. 

Overall, a compelling story that is worth reading. After more than a week since I read the book, Gayatri and Myshkin continue to linger in my mind and I am certain they carved out a little home for themselves in my soul. Well, I have no complaints!

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