My bond with novels written by Indian writers is becoming more firmly entrenched with every exceptionally written book that I read. Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy’s debutant novel – is a delectable delight for an experimenting reader like me.
A kaleidoscopic narrative about a family of three, this novel is a refreshing and confident take on the relational patterns between a South-Asian family situated in two parts of the world – San Francisco and Calcutta. It initiates with an insipid piece of paper – found by the son Amit – exposing a brutal truth that Romola and her husband Avinash were, respectively, hiding. From then commences a journey that allows the reader to unearth certain facets of each character, allowing us to understand that they are all somehow confined, unhappy and secretive in their lives.
Romola has lived in a quintessential ‘Indian woman’ manner – blotched by the adolescent one-sided romance with a late movie actor – where she was married a virgin and devoted herself to her husband, her son and her in-laws. But Romola is not perfect in the way one would preconceive an ‘Indian housewife’ to be. She has kept secrets. She has done things that some – like myself – would deem morally wrong. However, she is still constrained by her title as a wife and as a mother who never had the opportunity to spread her wings and soar.
Avinash has a barren demeanour but is drowning with so many hidden desires and wishes. He has quietly succumbed to the cultural practices that govern his life, but regret remains. For so long he has a monochromic existence, burying the libidinous demons within him. But one day when he allows them to flurry on, a disastrous encounter in a park entails and shakes everything within the reader.
On the outset, their son Amit appears to be the only one that is grounded in his identity. However, that image falters too when we unveil his own idiosyncrasies, imperfections, glitches and his fears of being able to create a healthy balance between his traditionally Indian mother and his practical, westernised manner of living with his foreign wife and young son.
The novel capably braids through the lives of these three central characters, peeling off layer after layer and exposing the authenticity of each character’s existence. They’re all facing small battles and struggling in different ways; against sexuality, dreams, regrets of having let life pass them by, guilt and forbidden desires that threaten to take hold over their perturbing minds.
This novel sets a mark for itself. Diverging from the archetypal linear structure that novels take, it adopts the composition of little sagas of confession under the umbrella of a much broader theme; of identity.
For his first novel Sandip Roy absolutely outdid himself. His skill is one like no other. He has the ability to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind of particular places that he describes with the ease that he describes them. I am familiar with Indian culture but not with Bengali, however, even I couldn’t help but infuse in the aroma of mustard fish and imagine the lazy afternoons in an Indian household mulling around indoors under the cooling fan, away from the sweltering heat of the outside. And the cluttering buzz on the rickety streets of Calcutta compared to the deafening silence of evenings spent in quiet towns of San Fransisco are easily envisioned through the reader’s mind, almost as if the reader herself is experiencing them.
I have found a place for Indian novelists like Roy in my heart and I cannot wait to divulge in yet another tale, yet another saga about families and people torn between two cultures that constitute their identity; for these are the stories that I can relate to the most.
For me, reading this novel was an intellectual pleasure and for every other lover and admirer of literary perfection; this book is a treat.It was an experiment for me, an experiment that I highly enjoyed participating in.
Sandip Roy has a league of his own and he is a phenomenal writer in his wake.
I highly recommend this book for those who want to try something minty and new, something that will teach them new literary tools, new ways of writing and reading stories. It is a different and new take on literature altogether.