“…it’s important to remember not only the things that have happened. She said it is important to remember what will happen.”
As the 352 pages of Mridula Koshy’s ‘Not Only The Things That Have Happened’ narrate a tale – and so compellingly at that – crypticness gives way to wonder, melancholy and loveliness. In a story that unfolds only in a matter of a few hours, life travels across time and geographies, across other lives and lives that could have been. A woman grows up from a little mother to the rightful mother of a lost boy. The lost boy, on his part, struggles to complete the tale of his broken childhood. And if for nothing else but the scope for introspection that the tale provides, this is a book that deserves to be read.
‘Not Only…’ starts off in Kerala, the resounding voice of the little narrator Nina bringing to the reader ocean mist, sunlight and shadow all at once. Her ill-fated Peramma dies, her last wishes unanswered. The woman who was both Annachechi (big sister) and mother to her little sister, the one who had lovely hair and black skin, the one who was sent off to a nunnery but brought apparent disgrace to the house…the one who was coerced into sending off her son to a German family but breathed her last praying to meet her lost boy.
The boy with the mismatched name, across the oceans in American Midwest, tries his best to make sense of the words he had randomly scribbled years back. They include ‘box’, ‘magician’ and ‘swing’. Though he supposedly has a world of his own – a little girl, a house, a wife – what he craves for is memory. In the process of giving up his mother, the one who spent her years concocting his facial lines, he cannot come to terms with his present.
Koshy’s strength lies in her words. Right from the way she coins the titles of her book (Remember ‘If It Is Sweet’?), the way the chapters are named to the shifts in narration that take place so subtly it’s almost clandestine. Her characters don’t need to announce conversations through quotes. Cities don’t need to be expressed through geographical descriptors. Without seemingly taking any effort, however, all the facets of her tale make their presence felt. The choice of words is perfect, the tone crisp yet full of yearning, the flow reminiscent of misty monsoon afternoons when you can never get over the fact that evening is but a couple of hours away.
Though the book is divided into two sections based on the two key protagonists, it never seems to take anything away from the book’s slice-of-life flavour. Nina’s innocence, Anna’s strength, her one-legged companion’s affection, the young priest and his insistence, the policemen and their lack of empathy…Koshy has achieved a new high in characterization and the brilliance is one that will invariably linger on in memory long after the tale has been told.
On the dim side, Koshy sometimes gets a tad too liberal with the pace. The emotions of her lead characters – though always emphatically expressed – and the change of scene/subject create a muddle or two which make you wish for a clearing among the clouds. But this is rare. For the most part, the text demands attention and arouses feelings of distinct déjà vu in a manner that is inexplicable.
‘Not Only…’ is a treat. Befitting for those hours of solitude when life looms large with questions of existence, dependence and persistence. As Anna puts it herself – “If I could, I would go back to the beginning. But I can’t. I can only go the end.” And this tale, by all means, is one that deserves to be accompanied till the last page.
Publisher: Harper Collins