Family Saga Reviews

Remembering, but not quite

The story progresses as Mrs C declines

Himanjali Sankar’s first novel for adults, Mrs C Remembers, is the story of an average Bengali woman Anita Chatterjee, part of Calcutta haut monde circles, mother to obedient son Sudeep and rebellious daughter Sohini, both of whom love her in unquestioning and questioning fashion. Her husband is busy climbing the ladder to more success and is affectionate in a careless, mostly patronising, way to his family.

The reader is drawn into the Chatterjee family politics in ever so gentle a manner, watching as Mrs C is about to lose her ailing mother-in-law to… well, that’s curious, it could be death from old age or it could be from lack of correct medication administered at correct times. Mrs C, of course, is most relieved that the old lady has decided to leave them; now, she feels, she can live her own life, without those highly disapproving eyes on her virtually all the time.

Sudden altercations

The first-person narration cuts between Mrs C and her daughter Sohini. They don’t always recall the same things, though the tracks do interlap. Willy-nilly, both Sohini and Mrs C are engaged in remembrance of things past.

How Sohini went a little wild immediately after graduation, went in and out of a short-lived, disastrous marriage, went abroad to study, and is now living with her Muslim boyfriend. How Mrs C, newly free after her mother-in-law’s death, picks up the strands of her social life again, only to suffer from frequent memory losses.

All too soon, the slow, inexorable realisation of just what is happening dawns on the reader. The story progresses as Mrs C declines.

The characters are drawn with a restrained hand and one wonders if that restraint is self-imposed or unwitting. Is Mrs C really all she is set up to be: obedient daughter-in-law, doting mother, a Nancy Reagan-like adoring wife, quite secure in her niche in the family and in the world? The interpersonal relationships are all the more real for their entire lack of drama, and for their stark contrast. Mrs C is unquestioning (at the beginning, at least) of whatever her husband says and does, and is forever making excuses for him.

Mrs C Remembers; Himanjali Sankar, Pan Macmillan India, ₹299.

Mrs C Remembers; Himanjali Sankar, Pan Macmillan India, ₹299.  

Sohini loves Omar but theirs is a relationship open to sudden altercations, doubts, rows; yet it is a deeply romantic one, the reader realises, when Sohini says, “There is a must remember to tell Omar diary in my head and when it starts filling up, I die to be with him. Always happens when we are apart for a few days.”

Elsewhere, Sohini states matter-of-factly, “I am a guest, not a member of the family in the way Sudeep is.” This motif is touched on through the book by both mother and daughter, the misogynistic ways of the Chatterjee clan, which favours a son over a daughter.

Then there is a wonderful passage harking back to when Sohini was six and Sudeep asks his mother in all seriousness: “Ma, are you a god?” “No,” says Mrs C. “But mothers have special powers too.”

And therein lies the key to Sohini’s deep despair at the ravages time is wreaking on her once-so-efficient mother.

Peculiar baggage

Mourning those who aren’t dead comes with peculiar baggage, Sohini ruminates at one point. There are enough intimations of mortality in this tale but they are not laid out in an unduly affecting style. Mrs C’s contemplations of ways to die is moving, as is Sohini musing that she would like to say, “Tough luck, Ma” and handle the situation with clinical practicality of the sort she had seen her mother often practise.

This study of two psyches, one which is slowly evaporating, one which is slowly coming into her own, has a very authentic ring to it.

Mrs C Remembers; Himanjali Sankar, Pan Macmillan India, ₹299.

An independent writer, manuscript editor and author, the writer is based in Bengaluru.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 5:19:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/remembering-but-not-quite/article19325574.ece

Next Story