Top positive review
Does sadness really beget more sadness?
7 November 2018
The TV in our house is tuned to CNBC-TV18 almost all the time, a constant drone in the background. Udayan, Lata, Sonia, Anuj – these are household names for us. When I learnt that Neel Mukherjee was Udayan’s older brother, I was gobsmacked! So it was with considerable excitement that I looked forward to his first novel. Alas, locating it in Amazon proved quite a task – I was repeatedly presented with a list of under eye creams to choose from!! I finally found it, after tweaking my search a bit, in the Kindle store.
I had read the book’s blurb, and was hence not surprised to find that the book was a melancholy one; what I wasn’t prepared for was just how much I liked the story. Also, the fact that Mr. Mukherjee writes beautifully is no surprise – we (at home) have been reading his columns for HT, and we look forward to his incisive analysis on various topics.
Dark Circles is about two brothers Ronojoy and Sujoy, their parents Subir and Mala, their growing up years in Delhi, and the terrible tragedy (sensitively and hauntingly described) that defines the lives of Mala an her two sons thereafter. Each one deals with the tragedy in his or her own way. Mala retreats to an Ashram in Rishikesh, distancing herself from her two beloved children. Ronojoy often escapes to the hills (“Here, as he sat, surrounded by towering peaks and an endless expanse of forest, his troubles seemed smaller”), and Sujoy though a difficult child while growing up and in college, fortunately settles down to a stable career and marriage. But deep down, the brothers know the truth – “Sujoy and he might have forged successful careers and seemingly stable lives for themselves, but Ronojoy knew that neither of them was quite normal”. They manage to sustain this façade of normalcy till Mala suddenly passes away, leaving behind a letter for Ronojoy, a letter whose contents will blow the top off their till now delicately held-together lives. How the two brothers deal with the secret contained in that letter forms the rest of the novel.
The story is a very, very sad one, and it is difficult not to remain unaffected as you read it. It’s a lightning read, and can be finished in a few hours. It is difficult to add any more to the review without giving away any spoilers, so let me end with some random observations that I noted while reading Dark Circles –
1) Bengali pet names are so cute - Bochka! Chhotku! Apu! To add some names that I am familiar with, to the list - Tatu, Tutu, Monu, Puppu…these are all common Bengali pet names
2) I found the sweetest name for a tom cat in the book – Hulo ! In Bengali, a tom cat is called “Hulo Beraal”. If I keep a male cat, I am going to name him Hulo
3) My favorite parts of the book are the description of Mukhteshwar. For those of you who have visited this beautiful hill station, you will know that it has one of the best views of the Himalayan range. The author’s description of the mountains, the trees, the birds in Mukhteshwar are lovely. He is obviously a “hill person”
4) The mental health issues the Chatterjee family face forms an important part of the novel, right till the very end. Ronojoy overcomes a bout of “crippling” clinical depression, and – the ever-protective older brother- worries if Sujoy too is prone to it. The doctor warns him – “There are no final victories in this battle…you may have survived this round but need to be ever watchful..”.
Finally, is there a message that the book wants to convey to the readers? I may be wrong, but I found a clue in this sentence – “What saddened Ronojoy was that his mother had underestimated the innate human capacity to forgive a loved one. Wasn’t this, essentially what made us humane – to see how fallible we all were, and to make allowances for it, for each other?” . To quote Shakespeare– the quality of mercy is twice blessed. (Slight spoiler alert for the next sentence!) - If only Subir Chatterjee had understood and appreciated this, the lives of four people would have been completely different!
I would without doubt recommend this book, and I would definitely read the next one written by Mr. Mukherjee. But this time, I look forward to a happier, more cheerful story! Perhaps sadness does breed more sadness, but the reverse is true as well - happiness begets happiness!