Wandering between the chaos and cacophonies he drifted through life. Unlost yet captive. Till she waltzed into his commotion. Calmly taking charge, setting him free. All he saw was her eyes. Deep. Mysterious. He knew they were magic and was now bound. Under their spell he was lost and did not want to be found.
He travelled a thousand miles just to see her. For the look in her eyes that gave him hope. For her touch that healed his soul and her hugs that made him feel whole. She completed him.The few times a year that he got to be with her, made even his solitude beautiful.
She stood between the man she loved and the man who loved her, waiting for a sign. He read the confusion on her face and called out to her. She hesitated, looked the other way, then walked up to him. In that one moment everything changed. She always remembered his acceptance and he never forgot her reluctance.
Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Penguin Books India
“Family Life” revolves around the Mishra family, who move to the United States from Delhi in the 1970s. The eight year old narrator is in awe of everything around him from elevators to wall-to-wall carpet in their new house. Simple things like the hot water flowing directly from the taps also amazes him. He goes on to talk about the struggles and adjustments his family makes in order to fit in to the new world. Ajay narrates how his Father who works as a clerk in a government agency and mother who left her job as a high-school economics teacher in India and now works as a garment factory worker, are anxious about the acceptance of his elder brother in a reputed school. There is happiness and celebration all around when Birju wins acceptance to the Bronx High School of Science.
The twist in the story comes when the elder son of the family is in a unfortunate diving accident that leaves him severely brain damaged, blind, and mute. Only able to breathe by himself, otherwise incapacitated. The tragedy and the family’s response to it seen through young Ajay’s eyes touches the heart and leaves knots in the stomach.
Each member of the family suffers differently. His father becomes an alcoholic, his mother looks for cures through hoards of miracle workers while Ajay acts out trying to find an outlet for his feelings as well as his place in the world now that it’s been turned upside down.
The author relates the story with a view point of an eight year old, adapting a child’s sharp perception and simple language. The book makes you very sad and then smiles make sudden appearances on the childlike outlook of a grim situation. You sympathise with every character at all times. Its deeply unnerving and tremendously tender all at once.
This is Akhil Sharma’s second novel after the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning “An Obedient Father”. He is an Indian-American writer. A graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Public Policy. Sharma won a Stegner Fellowship to the writing program at Stanford, and won several O. Henry Prizes.
I read “Family Life” with a lot of sighs. Not everyone who reads it can relate to it, a few definitely will. Its one of those reads that shakes your core. This one does it with a large helping of sorrow topped with a kiss of dark humour.
It’s possible to find order in chaos, and it’s equally possible to find chaos underlying apparent order. Order and chaos are slippery concepts. They’re like a set of twins who like to swap clothing from time to time. Order and chaos frequently intermingle and overlap, the same as beginnings and endings. Things are often more complicated, or more simple, than they seem. Often it depends on your angle. I think that telling a story is a way of trying to make life’s complexity more comprehensible. It’s a way of trying to separate order from chaos, patterns from pandemonium.
She got back from work just before dawn broke. Odd timings came as a package deal of having a job she loved. The day had been particularly unforgiving. She had worked a twenty hour shift with an unfading smile on her face.
She unlocked the door as silently as she could, knowing the two men she loved, would be sleeping in peace. One of them met her as she entered, smiling and wagging his tail at the same time. She put her finger on lips, signalling him to be quite, then sat down to meet him. One hug from the old boy and she was already feeling better. Both of them walked in to the cooler section of the house.
She saw him sleep under the white sheets.
The indigo light from the window was making his face glow. His breathing was soft and calm like he was far away in his sleep. She slipped out of her clothes and slipped in beside him. She felt his bare cold skin against hers calmed her soul down. He put his arm around her, still sleeping, now with a smile on his face. He moved comfortably into her space.
She had everything that made her life perfect right there. A content heart, arms that waited for her and the music of the heart she lived in coming from the chest she slept upon.
We sat in the car and the night dropped down around us. The only sounds were the crickets and the dance of our voices. For a moment the world became small enough to roll back & forth between us. Everything was an adventure, at night. We were where we shouldn’t be, even if it was somewhere we could go perfectly well in daylight, and it was then only ordinary. It had something to do with the ebony veil that surrounded us. It all seemed right in the velvet hue.
Lying on the hood of the car we stared at the heavens like we belonged. The stars appeared first, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world. Then came the moon smiling coyly as if he was a part of the plan. The wind tiptoed around listening in on our whispers. In that moonstruck moment, the rights and the wrongs got lost in ivory satin that wrapped itself around us, and we found life.