Book Review: Sumana Roy’s ‘Missing’
By Suranjana Choudhury
Sumana Roy’s Missing is a sad, beautiful book. This book makes one look beyond what are seemingly ordinary snippets of living. Sumana writes passionately, thoughtfully and with an intense sense of observation. The novel slowly unfolds the fragmented everydayness of life and longing. Her previous book How I became a Tree was a deeply reflective work which presented before us profound views on the need to appreciate life in its varied forms. It invited us to consciously see lives which remain unnoticed and unrecognized. It was a thinking book, so is Missing. The quality of Sumana’s narration is intriguing – philosophical, meandering, and imaginatively supple. Missing asks many questions, the gravity of which heightens as different strands of the narrative move forward and backward. Sumana does not give us answers at any point because the complexity and richness of these questions elude any definite, conclusive answer. In one of his letters to Franz Kappus, Rilke had reflected on the need to preserve questions. He had written, “Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers.” Sumana’s novel induces us not to look for answers.
Nayan, the poet character, who we come closest to knowing (?) asks many of these unanswered questions. His blindness, his inability to communicate with the larger world, his own insulated existence curiously empower him to form varied questions in his mind. Kobita, his wife and his sole companion who gives him comfort and answers, is missing. Her absence is ironically a compulsive, lingering presence throughout the narrative. Her going away from his life makes him seek solace in his aloneness. He experiences this aloneness when he is surrounded by other people in his big house. Words float around, they are thrown at each other. An interesting alchemy happens between Nayan’s sense of isolation and Bimal-da’s imposing ways to reach out. Sumana beautifully arrests this sense of non-communication which exists between words, spoken and heard. Bimal-da’s constant efforts to convey his sense of wisdom that he has collected through his life offer interesting insights. He examines lives around him through an intense engagement with his own creative enterprise as a carpenter. His enquiries on life and art echo deeply with fundamental problems of existence. “It was Bimal-da’s nature to feel sad for everyone – he had been encouraged to believe that the world was full of unhappy people. If the world had been happy, it’d have stopped moving.” The mood created through such reflections is profound, deep, and rich.
Meanwhile Tushi, the appointed newsreader who believes in love, reads from newspaper. Roy’s concern is not only with spoken words and words of the mind. She also explores the centrality of printed words in our lives today. What significance do newspaper headlines carry in building up the characters’ perceptions of the larger, unknown world outside? The exercise of making and breaking news is pulled into question. Roy constantly challenges the notion of distinct categories which strive to segregate news, fiction, and myth. The novel brilliantly captures how multiple histories, fictions, and items of news contradict each other. She directs our attention to the discriminatory, biased exercise of the producers of news who hardly care for the lesser known, the lesser understood. History too shares the same compulsive approach, the propensity to be with the powerful. So Kabir, missing Kobita’s son, questions, “Was it due to geography alone, how history and its ally, fame, only shone the spotlight on those areas it had visited already and how it avoided unfamiliar territory?” Kabir’s endeavours to research the history of construction of a particular road in his hometown lead him towards realizing the complex nature of such a task. His access into the past of ‘Philip, the tired road builder’ yields strange realisations. The book is replete with such moments of extraordinary musings.
Roy’s evocation of a place and its associated emotions is remarkable. Most of the novel happens in Nayan’s room. The world created is strikingly abbreviated, yet it is a meditative and a layered world. The everydayness of such a world is rendered rich and meaningful through Sumana’s words. The beauty of her narration lies not in unnecessary elaboration. The details are necessary because through the exterior Roy tells us about the interior worlds of characters. The action is as much internal as it is external. Readers will appreciate that this simultaneity serves to introduce an interesting order to a series of thoughts and experiences. The depth of Sumana’s evocative and beautiful prose elevate the narrative. The unexplored contours of Siliguri and its roads come alive in the novel. Earlier in an essay, Sumana had revealed unknown facets of a life after dark in Siliguri in the volume Day’s End Stories: Life After Sundown in Small-Town India. A lesser known tale of this town was told beautifully by her. Here in Missing, too, she maps the territorial randomness of Siliguri and its fringes. The road journey to Jalpesh unfolds the writer’s ability to explore layers of human sadness which strike conversations with geographies of the surroundings. Missing is about discovering all these and much more.
Missing is available here.
Dr. Suranjana Chaudhury is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her areas of interest include Narratives on Partition and Displacement, Women Studies, Travel Writings and Translation Studies. She has published articles in numerous journals and edited volumes. She has also presented papers in many national and international conferences. Besides her academic writings, she has also contributed to Scroll.in, Humanities Underground, The Statesman, Cafe Dissensus, Coldnoon Travel Poetics. She may be contacted at email@example.com
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