Title: Lessons In Forgetting
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: Harpercollins (30 January 2010)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Drama
Price: Rs. 308 on Amazon.
The first and only other book that I have read of Anita Nair is 'Mistress'. A couple of my friends were talking about a particular Indian author whose work was excellent and this turned out to be Anita Nair. Another friend gifted 'Mistress' to me and I started reading it without any expectations just like what I have from most Indian authors. That book turned out to be fabulous and the writing was fantastic. It did have a nice South Indian touch to the story and that was something I could relate to very well. I loved the story and the characterization as well as the complex emotions. I hold 'Mistress' very close to my heart. I did not review it because I was not sure what to write about it. I understood the relationships in the book, but I could not put it into words. So I let it be.
I watched the movie 'Lessons In Forgetting' one Sunday on TV. I had no clue that it was adapted from a book. The movie was more like a documentary and yet told a brilliant story. Adil Hussain has done a fantastic job in it. When the movie ended I saw that it was adapted from a novel by Anita Nair. I picked up the book soon enough but it lay unread on my shelf. A few weeks ago, while chatting with a friend, the topic of Anita Nair came up and I decided to finally read this one.
The first story in the book is that of Meera. Meera, goose-girl Meera (explained in the book), is a high society wife and a writer of cookery and social etiquette books. She lives in a plush ancestral house called 'The Lilac House' with her husband Giri, son Nikhil, mother Saro and her grandmother, Lily. Her daughter Nayantara lives away from home due to her studies. Everything seems to be going really well for Meera until she attends a high society party with her husband and son. Halfway through the party, her husband disappears and she later learns that he has actually left her and their kids. Suddenly, Meera is left to fend for herself and her family and the house. The second story is that of J. A. Krishnamurthy or Jak a renowned expert on cyclones who comes back to India for good in the search of something. A divorcee, he is keen on finding out what happened to Smriti, his nineteen year old daughter who lies comatose after going through a "freak" accident in a village in South India. His idea is to trace his daughter's last few days in Minjikapuram the place where he grew up. Kala, his mother's sister stays with him and takes care of Smriti. Meera and Jak's life later intervene in an intricate way.
I loved the story line and the very reason why I loved the movie. But this probably is one of the rare cases where the movie is better than the book. I initially thought that this was probably because I watched the movie first. The same thing happened in the case of 'The Devil Wears Prada' too. But this time this was not it. Meera's story line in the book is brilliantly written. Although I did not stand to watch Meera turn into a lost panic queen as she tried to pick up the bits and piece of her life financially. Her family and her cringing on the basics to selling off old books for some extra cash was understandable but why couldn't she ask for help from her estranged husband? He after all had left behind two children as well. Meera is a successful woman, and yet she becomes a lost lamb when her husband leaves. Only in the financial aspect. Not once has it been shown that she misses the man she loved. Soon enough, she goes on to have an affair with a much younger man. If the idea was to show a independent woman and feminism, this is not how it should have been done.
It was Jak's story line that disturbed me the most. While the story was troubling in itself, the writing tired me out. The story moves from third person to first person to a character narration from time to time. It wasn't easy to keep up with this and most importantly it was unnecessary. And so were the excerpts from Meera's books in the form of observations and tables. I did not understand the importance of it at all, if at all it was important. Smriti's tale forms the soul of the book without a doubt. As Jak unveils the mystery that led to her current state, your heart breaks time and again. With nothing but a few names in hand, he traces her days just before her accident. He discovers that his daughter was working for a good cause and this is what led to her current situation. The scenes that describe the accident towards the end chapters are heart wrenching and disturbing. So are the scenes where Jak bathes his teenage daughter or applies her lip balm for her. These will shake you even if you are made of stone. Kala's back story was very well narrated and stands out on its own where she is no longer reduced to a supporting character.
There is no doubt that the story line is brilliant. It is Meera's character and the writing that did not work for me.
Verdict: I would suggest watching the movie. But if written words are what pleases you, give it a try.
Rating: 3 out of 5.