Life in a history lesson
By Kaviya Sanjeevi
30th July 2012 12:00 AM
Momentous events of India’s chequered life form the backdrop of the life of Asha, the main protagonist of Mishi Saran’s The Other Side of Light. The book is an account of the social evils present in the country. It dwells on how Asha comes to terms with the inequalities that define life in the subcontinent, her parents and friends.
The journey of enlightenment begins early in her childhood — a chance encounter with a slum dweller opens Asha’s mind to people living outside the gates of her plush house. College was another learning experience where she met Kabir, the biggest influence in her life. The social worker would go to any depth to eradicate poverty. Their relationship blossoms into a romance but ends tragically as Kabir is killed in Assam. A depressed Asha returns home and takes months to recover. Saran captures the mood perfectly in these sentences — ‘I replayed in my mind the path of the bullet, its rolled-up edges, its deadly load nosing through the sir, sniffing out the centre of Kabir’s brain and mangling his nerve centres, the ganglions and synapses of his thoughts’.
Asha’s subsequent trip to a Swiss village to pursue her love for photography results in yet another life-changing episode. Saran’s descriptions of the locale transports you to Switzerland.
Post her Swiss sojourn, Asha works as a photojournalist-cum-reporter in Mumbai. She witnesses the 1993 US World Trade Center car bomb attack, followed by government-organised visits to villages where violence is the norm, dacoits rule the roost and women are constantly raped. At such moments Asha is remined of the revolutionary Kabir, and dedicates all her social experiences to his memory.
However, the book is not only about Asha. Saran has fleshed out other characters like her friends and parents. Their stories are revealed through their conversations with Asha. The book moves through the Emergency, the 1995-murder of Beant Singh, former Punjab chief minister and other historical events.
The storyline hints at a conclusion when Akash is introduced. Asha meets him at a press conference during the Bombay Stock Exchange bomb blast crisis in 1993. Saran forces us to revist our gory past through Asha’s life. But this grim plot has no tragic endings as a happy Asha leaves for Australia with hubby Akash.
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