Book of the Month: Lessons in Forgetting
Anita Nair never fails to deliver when it comes to the causes she selects. In Lessons in Forgetting, she does just this. A book that looks at the many layers of society, the many nuanced perspectives that go into the myriad manifestations of patriarchy and male chauvinism, Lessons in Forgetting should best be taken as a lesson on the Indian ethos rather than a rendition of what one might perceive as literary fiction.
The book chronicles the tale of Meera, a corporate wife with the air of casual nonchalance as a cookbook writer, on the one hand; and JAK, a renowned cyclone studies expert who is on a mission to find out what actually happened to his daughter and who caused it. Meera finds herself smack centre in a situation when her husband deserts her, making her responsible overnight for her mother, grandmother, son and daughter, while she finds ways to make ends meet. JAK, or J A Krishnamurthy jostles with a failed marriage, an aunt who has his back all the time, and his comatose daughter while he pieces together the very issues that landed his daughter in that situation. Meera’s need for a job lands her at JAK’s doorstep as a secretary. The rest of the story is spent in spanning the many narratives that make inroads into Smriti’s story. A loud of silence and fear surrounds the incident that resulted in Smriti’s condition. JAK finds himself bereft of help – neither the local police, nor Smriti’s boyfriend is forthcoming. In a series of coincidences Meera and JAK find their lives turning and twisting together, with the unpredictability and sheer inevitability of a cyclone. JAK’s pursuit takes him to the tiny village in Tamil Nadu. The village, set on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, is home to a terrible, terrible reality. Girls are unwanted b on the one hand for just being girls, and maternal deaths are matter of “normal occurrences”. Smriti, it appears, lands herself as an unassuming activist with a sense of idealism in the hope of busting a sex selection racket in a fictional village situated in Tamil Nadu. A brutal gang-rape at the hands of the cartel that organised and ran the process of sex selection leaves her in her vegetative state. Narratives intersperse themselves as Meera fights a failed marriage, JAK’s aunt speaks out her story as a woman defying culture where her hair was valued more than she herself, and JAK himself fights for his daughter, and hopes for closure. Lily and Saro, Meera’s grandmother and mother come forth with their own narratives and zest for life, while Meera’s son shines through as the young man who grew up overnight.
As a reader, I found myself in a place where I thought of the characters as being borderline pretentious. But as a human, I realised that these are the many shades of humanity. Feminism does not lie in being a termagant fighter, but rather in dusting your back and moving on. Feminism is not defeated when a woman decides to give her husband a chance. Feminism is not defeated when a woman decides who she will be in a relationship with. Besides speaking about the nuanced aspects of patriarchy and gender discrimination, the book is also a gentle reminder of something very important: the right of a woman in terms of her autonomy. Who she is, what she wants to be, and how she decides the trajectory of her life is for her, and her alone, to deal with.