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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 2:34 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 2:34 AM (IST)

Of human prejudices

Gaurav Kanthwal

Sumana Roy’s second novel Missing is a perplexing story of Bengali couple, Kobita and Nayan, that has lost contact with each other for the past one week. The seven days of emotional turmoil in their life bring out some important and some mundane aspects of the conjugal life that they have been unaware of even after decades of living together.

Kobita (54) is a social activist, in search of a young girl who was molested by a mob in Guwahati and has since mysteriously vanished in lower Assam. After reaching Assam, Kobita keeps in touch with her blind husband by phone but suddenly after three-four days the contact is lost. Nayan is worried about her as it is the fag end of July and floods have lashed lower parts of the state. The poet-husband immediately starts searching for her whereabouts — through newspapers reports.

In this post-modern Indian writing in English, Nayan is lost in the maze of crime and politics in the year 2012 in North-eastern India. Rising crime graph, Bangladeshi migrants, annual flooding woes and political turmoil, corruption all find mention in this novel. Soon after announcing that Kobita has gone missing, Roy does not build on this tense twist and but takes a mundane detour with Kobita’s scholar son’s research pursuit. In the end, Kobita does make an appearance but this is not reunion per se.

Missing is also a commentary on human prejudices and shortcomings and fickle nature of humanbeings. It shows how people compartmentalise others around them according to their class, castes and religion.

Apart from Kobita, Nayan, and their son Kabir, there are a couple of other characters in the house — carpenter Bimal da, his granddaughter Tashi Saha, assistant Ahmed, a Bangladeshi and the caretaker Shibu. Each of these characters has been ingrained with a prejudice and a way of demeaning the other to gain ascendance in society, and that is how Missing has shown hierarchy taking root in our parochial society.

Roy, a resident of Silliguri, has written a topical novel with characters drawn from her personal life. The storyline is simple in which the end result is almost a foregone conclusion. Roy’s skill is in blending her fiction with facts; facts that have been taken straight from news reports, historical events and real-life letters.

“The serious and the important were the spine and flesh of news. The seemingly unnecessary is from where art — and poetry — derives its juice,” Roy wrote in an essay recently. Her ingeniuity is in using Bollywood songs, Bangla poems and poets to drive home her point. Jabs and straight punches such as: the girl with face of a hut — and — Even wives give missed calls to their husbands — add humour to a tense narrative.

Roy’s heavy use of metaphors, her indulgence with history and current events makes her a typical Indian writer in English. Missing is her first work in fiction, but her first published book, How I became a Tree, a non-fiction, too, draws heavily from movies, mythology, history, politics and human pretensions — clearly a common theme in all her writings.


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