There lies tucked in the pages of this novel a moving love story. Nah, not the kind that Hollywood or Bollywood or Tollywood comes up with. On the contrary, this love story is ever so gentle and moving that you simply flow along with words tucked in the emails exchanged between the two: Kevin, a vicar devoted to the political struggle for Scottish independence and Maya, a well-known Hindi author. The two had known and loved each other ever so passionately in the New Delhi of the late 70s, and then parted, re-establishing contact after a gap of almost forty years via emails.
It’s these emails webbed together by Mridula Garg in the novel that keep nudging one to flow along. There is an interplay of emotions without traces of lust or superficial sways. Right from the first email that Kevin wrote to Maya in the summer of 2008 to re-establish contact with her, till the very last email sent on August 24, 2015, there is not only a subtle yearning that never goes overboard, but also that vital connect that is a rarity in today’s relationships.
These emails are a conversation between two adults who are compatible with each other and politically aware. Mind you, both of them are married, residing with their spouses and children in two different continents, yet, to use a cliché, there is much meeting of the minds and souls; love of a strain deeper than physical want.
It is best to read this novel in a single sitting to be able to grasp the intensity of the exchange. It starts off in a matter-of-fact way—‘Dear Maya, we received a request for your contact details via our website www.womenwrititng.com from Kevin Wilson. Please see this mail below—forwarded message from K@crossroads.com to firstname.lastname@example.org “I have been reading some of the excellent writings of Maya J. in English translation, and would like to make contact with her again. We were acquainted in India many years ago, but I have lost touch. On your website you offer to pass on any request for contact details. Could you ask her to contact me by email?”’
Maya responded within days, her emotions with this one liner—‘This is unbelievable and a tad frightening. But here’s my ID.’
Kevin, writing in after a forty year gap, explains why he suddenly wanted to get in touch with her—‘…But something over the last few weeks has brought you so sharply into my mind and heart, that I had to try to find you to know you are well and happy. I wrote to the address given on the Jain Samaj website, but heard nothing, then tried other ways! I have followed your glittering career—you can guess my favourite among your writing, though I regret I can only read in English translation. If you want to know a bit more about my doings over the long years, try googling me. A few years ago, a grateful(?) government made me a CBE—which anachronistically means “Commander of the Order of the British Empire”. I am sure you will approve of that! The years change so many things—but not all.’
The protagonists share details about their personal lives, and the political and social situations in their respective locations across the world. Several emails are of a philosophical strain. And yes, there are the heart-touching romantic outpourings. Maya writes to Kevin on July 5, 2009—‘I’m so glad you did not love me for my mind all those years ago. From my early childhood, my mind was my refuge from unhappiness, loneliness, pain … whatever! Most people believed that I was perfectly happy living on the level of intellect and had little passion for anything except reading, and perhaps acting. Good preparation for the future, but still a subterfuge…So my love, I love you for not discovering the other Maya, whom all others knew. I’m happy with you knowing me, whom only you and I knew. I’m sure the grammar of that sentence is horribly wrong but never mind. You can understand why no one took Chittacobra to be a true story!’ They also write about their respective spouses. To quote Kevin from the email dated October 12, 2014—‘You have been on my conscience for days, and I was well aware I missed answering your warm mail for almost a month. Lynda died suddenly and totally unexpectedly three weeks ago, and the girls and I have been dealing with not just grief, but with all the things that had to be done. I simply have not got to my computer…That part of my life is sadly over—but we are not.’ In another email dated August 8, 2015, he writes—‘I must be honest—after Lynda’s death I still cannot change my recognition that she was the love of my life and of course the mother of my three lovely girls. This in no way diminishes what I feel for you, but as you know it has always been in the background of our relationship, and accounts for at least some of my crazy behaviour to you over the years.’
Maya’s response to him is equally forthright and frank—‘I’m glad Lynda was the love of your life and you had a long and fruitful life with her. Few people are so lucky. I’m truly sorry for your loss and understand how you must miss her. But I must say that our on-and-off interlude had nothing to do with Lynda or Naveen, my husband, who I can’t say was the love of my life. The loves of my life are my sons—but that’s a very private domain…Our relationship, by whatever name you call it, was without reference to anyone but us. So…you don’t have to justify, apologise or explain. Your ambivalence is already well recorded. But strangely I have a feeling since Lynda’s death that our tenuous relationship would soon end too. However ironical, it seems fated, and in a weird way, befitting, so much so that I almost feel no regret. I do feel that the time has come for us to stop living in memory.’
This was Maya’s last email to Kevin, who replied with a philosophical acceptance—‘My dear dear Maya. What can I say…but this …
Three Wise Women/
Would have asked directions/
Arrived on time/
Helped deliver the baby /
Brought practical gifts/
Cleaned the stable/
Made a casserole /
And there would be /
Peace on earth./
In other words/
They would not have dithered/
And it is here, on this note, the novel ends.
It is difficult for me to comment with utmost surety and accuracy that this love story is along the autobiographical strain, more so as it has been officially labelled a ‘novel’ but somehow as I read through it, not just once but twice, it felt deeply personal. Not to overlook the fact that there’s nothing called pure fiction; after all, writers offload whatever they have experienced in one way or the other.
Humra Quraishi, a Delhi based writer-columnist-journalist, is the author of Kashmir: The Untold Story, a volume of her collective writings, Views: Yours and Mine, a short story collection, More Bad Time Tales, Divine Legacy: Dagars & Dhrupad, and a debut novel Meer. She has co-authored The Good The Bad and The Ridiculous: Profiles, Absolute Khushwant and a series of writings with the late Khushwant Singh.