The Romantics | A Novel | Pankaj Mishra

There are fictions that give you a rush, a shot of thrill or an expectation of something unimaginable, and you go back to the book whenever you can cast yourself away from the world. You keep looking for that window of time to get immersed and continue your breathtaking journey, then there comes your way – ‘The Romantics‘ which draws you to itself when you want no such rush, no such thrill and you look to withdraw within yourself. The Romantics is a story that develops as a slow, indifferent painting on the chaotic canvas of the world.

My ‘To-Read’ list was hit by a sudden extrapolation this year on my birthday as I presented three books to myself and received a couple of books from two other friends as presents. ‘The Romantics, A Novel‘ has been presented by Miss Akanksha Mahapatra, a dear friend who lives in Chennai and has a fair idea about my love for books as she is a bibliophile herself. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a circle of friends who have insatiable appetite when it comes to devouring books. This book reached my hands only after it had attended to a few hiccups with the courier service.
In the interest of plain-speak, I have always taken books of Indian writers who write in English with a grain of salt. I find many of the well-known writers wanting on many fronts. One thing that disappoints me the most is the anglicisation of India, to an extent that the story becomes a typical dream sequence of fantasy. Pankaj Mishra not only saves us from such a heresy but also excels triumphantly in the description of Indian contexts and environments. I found a fresh approach that doesn’t tinker with anything that is Indian, leaving the readers to perceive the culture’s beauty and ugliness with their own senses. But you need a captain on the ship, and Pankaj Mishra is just that captain who shows you around the ocean that is sometimes grave-tranquil and at times churns violently to destroy everything down, the islands that are sometimes completely deserted and at times inhabited by people who we thought never existed. The captain himself never judges. You are left with your own inferences and conjectures. All this when the book has the driving European and American contexts to it, makes the writing style dearer and very enchanting.

It’s the story of Samar and the journeys of his life that change his outlook of the world. Written in first person narrative, Samar is constantly trying to make sense of the things happening around him. Torn amongst many lives he is living, he finds oxygen for his deepest desires in the midst of all the confusions that befuddle him. Born in a Brahmin family, Samar represents the Indian youth who has been brought up with traditional values. As he moves out of his city owing to circumstances, he experiences life in varied forms and his values and notions are challenged on every turn he takes. The writer has developed a Samar who is impressionable and not rigid to accept changes but ponders over everything quietly while submitting to new environments facing him.

The central characters of the story Miss West, Catherine, Anand, Rajesh present to us different desires of the human mind where one is caught in a complicated relationship, one longs for love, another one is after financial success and one is graduating into the political scene of the city. Then there are a few who are captivated by the eastern philosophy and mysticism, only to be disillusioned later as they realize how they had been deceiving themselves. The Romantics is a tale of emotions, of discoveries and of adjustments. Many a times in the book, you will be reminded of how little you know about the people surrounding you. Everyone has a story to hide till a point in time and to tell when she is comfortable in her audience’s presence, more importantly when there remains no difference between the audience and the teller . All such exchanges, all such affectations and all such accompanying revelations have been extraordinarily captured by the author against the expansive and beautifully developed backdrop of various places Samar visits and stays at. I can’t congratulate him enough to have narrated such a story with such silent, sometimes sad gait in its spirit.
This book touched the very core of my heart by its serene meanderings. Some critics have accused the author of not divulging enough about Samar, and being excessively descriptive at times. I have differing thoughts. The descriptive style lends the story a seamless flow that not many writers can boast of. Samar is the protagonist of the book, at the same time Samar is also the reader of the book. You will see yourself in Samar’s skin in all his ruminations, and you will look back at your life that has told you on more than one occasion that there are things that are not meant to be, no matter how badly you dream about them. There are times we have to walk away contented with void. That in my opinion is the high point of this tale.

A life comes with so many promises when it starts, only to under-deliver by the time we come to understand it. So many of the promises are not kept that we cease to get disheartened and start observing things like it was someone else’s life. We adjust, we adapt and life goes on. The romanticism dies gradually as we come to accept that we don’t understand ourselves enough. The external world keeps growing ever more obscure to be understood. Conventionalities break, ideals shatter, opinions remould – without ever killing you. You realize how life is a bundle of imperfect moments. You live to see yourself and your relations change over time, over situations, over gaiety, over heart-breaks. Life goes on like that tree which gains green in spring only to lose it as the fall arrives. I couldn’t have thought of a better title for this disarmingly, at times hauntingly real story – The Romantics!

 

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