Author Jahnavi Barua talks about her latest book and the intricacies of human relationships

Bengaluru-based Assamese author Jahnavi Barua’s latest book, Undertow, deals with the nuances of family ties

Whether we like it or not, as human beings, we are moulded by the relationships in our lives — the good, bad and the ugly ones. People tend to credit family and friends for positive influences, often glossing over the contributions of other ‘supporting actors’ in our lives.

In Undertow, Jahnavi Barua explores the fine web of human lives with a deft touch. Though the story is set in Bengaluru and Guwahati, it is a tale every Indian will relate to. Jahnavi who hails from Assam, but has lived in Bengaluru for the past 28 years, feels, “A place or a geographical location adds flavour to the story, though it isn’t a necessity.”

Jahnavi’s first book was a collection of short stories called Next Door, followed by Rebirth — a monologue of a woman talking to her unborn child — which was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize.

Undertow deals with how relationships undergo a sea change when a family member defies societal norms and parental wishes to marry an ‘outsider’.

“The story is universal and the reader will relate to it because it is the story of people around us. I wanted to explore what happens when reconciliation doesn’t happen,” says Jahnavi, adding, “Undertow deals with the many small things that make up a whole where relationships are concerned — how old hurts, grudges and ego get in the way as do new anxieties.”

“What fascinates me are the not-so obvious interactions in relationships; what flows under the surface. Sometimes your mother could be your principal antagonist, your father an ally and a mother-in law your best friend.”

“We learn how to deal with other human beings right from childhood and within our families. While we learn about love, trust, loyalty, honesty, ambition, hard work and politics in an extended family, we also learn about rejection, betrayal and selfishness,” she says, adding, “I think we go out into the world with what we learn in a family. The tangible and intangible ways we respond to people depends on what we learned growing up.”

While the essence of the book is about relationships, a lot of it is also about second chances and how one should seize it when it comes round.

“For me, the core of the book is what it is to be human and a lot of it depends on being self-aware. An individual should know his own flaws and strengths and knows what he is going do next. There is a kind of positivity, acceptance and tolerance in knowing what you want and getting it in a good way, without stepping on someone else’s toes.

“It may not always work out, but you’ll only know when you try it. So this book is really about that and I’m hoping readers will take that away from Undertow,” she says.

Undertow is published by Penguin and is priced at ₹499

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 9:43:23 AM |

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