‘The Lives of Others’ by Neel Mukherjee is a novel published in 2014 and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, heralding Neel Mukherjee as one of the most talented and successful Indian authors. Neel Mukherjee is heavily inspired by V.S. Naipaul as stated in many of his interviews, and I am an admirer of Naipaul’s fiction as well.
The novel is set in Bengal, shifting its location and demographics from rural to urban and vice versa in the 1960s and early ’70s. It breezes across the urban houses, mills, offices, people, bustling and wrestling vehicles on the road, and the paddy fields, the open vacant spaces, wasted land, and farmers in the villages.
Since the very beginning of the novel is a symbol insinuating the violent juxtapositions and devastating contrasts in the centre pages of its medium sized tome digging deeper into the labyrinthine concepts and physical epitomisation and materialisation of the ideas in urban and rural, the immeasurable and cruel disparity of wealth between the rich cradles in velvety sofas in pucca houses hewn out of brick, stone and concrete in relation to the disparaged and ousted marginalised farmers lacerated with the corruption looming in the inherited societies from ancestry, residing in kaccha houses made with tin sheds and bamboo sticks.
The story revolves around an inherently capitalist and materialistic business driven family whose eldest grandson Supratik, has grown silent, alienated and spends a lot of his time musing in silence, a sense of estrangement and consciousness disturbs him as he realises the pain of the poorest of the people living life in miseries sinking slowly into desuetude.
Supratik becomes a part of the Communist Naxalbari movement, regularly revolting for justice for the poor, even it means traversing moral boundaries for justice, injustice for the sake of justice, which evokes a feeling of pathos throughout the novel.
Neel Mukherjee, has an appetite for violence, bloodshed, and unflinching despair because this novel doesn’t hold back, it doesn’t delve into the sweetness of the people and the colours of life rather exposes the blackness of complex families and isolated simpletons from the lower berth of the society. No reader can say the words, I liked the novel or even worse, I love this novel because it isn’t meant to be someone’s favourite novel.
The novel doesn’t request you to sympathise with the characters, there are absolutely no characters to sympathise with, every beaten character suffering from injustice, has a dark side, a story hidden inside the flesh, lined with traces of blood, heartache, sin and depression.
The writing follows a very straightforward tone, it strikes the notes of a crescendo, every page is tighter, despairing and melancholic and perhaps even more thrilling than the previous ones, the harshness and the loudness of the novel increases as the tome thins out on the right hand side.
Readers, even the most high brow fiction admiring bibliophiles might demand the writer to induce and apply shades of happiness in the bleakness, to lighten the bitter medicine of reality, but, in this sphere, the novel chooses to follow an esoteric journey, one of exclusivity, not of inclusion. Neel Mukherjee, is a ferocious academic and a professor in Harvard, and the novel has a prose which rings with academic proclivity and also the eye for detailed economic crisis and political turmoil.
Nonetheless, the reader cannot help but wonder at Neel Mukherjee’s prowess to spin a pulse racing thriller interlaced with the most uncomfortable and disturbing facets of the Ghosh’ family, showcasing the authors terrifying delightfulness in shedding light on the darkest corners, where the eye of the reader might fail to reach. A wonderful novel, with a terrific and lyrical prose, and the penchant for disturbing complications illuminating the harshness of a crack whip.