The cover of Githa Hariharan’s sublimely written Fugitive Histories, done by Rosana Claudia Marchini(photograph), Gunjan Ahlawat(design) and Urmimala(illustration), has, coming out of a mudglaciated-over map of India, a pair of hands of a person doing a military ‘stand at ease’, but not quite: the fingers of the hand are straight, not at ease, like the person – the country – they belong to is itching to do something but can’t, forced to look like he(/she) is at ease. We also see that in this odd representation of the country, the three cities of Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi have been brought much closer than in reality. We open the book and we see Mala, whose painter husband Asad has just died, trying to sort out Asad’s possessions, his sketchbooks, wallowing in her childhood memories, of the time before she had even met him, and memories of her children Samar and Sara when they were still that and using those memories to understand her life as it is now, and one of His – Asad’s – drawings. Soon, we come across this:
That’s how the ant not only shows what she can do, but also makes them all a part of a living chain, so they change from creatures indifferent to other people’s stories to creatures changed by other people’s stories. That’s the way Samar and Sara also saw it once, a game in which everyone is linked. What happens to one also happens, in some way, to the other. That’s how all those fragments that pass for different lives forge a cunning chain. The interlocking links may not always be visible, but still they are made of iron. And the ending of a chain story can’t really be the end. To make sense of it all, you have to go back to the beginning.
There, to be sure, is a lot more to the book, lots of little(r) themes, and vignettes of considerable power, – otherwise, to paraphrase J. M. Coetzee, why not scrap the rest of the book altogether? – but this, as defined by the cover and the quote, is the centrepiece of my reading of the book. Read the rest of this entry »