Sunday, 6 March 2016

Not Your Average Mushy Romance: A Thousand Unspoken Words by Paulami Dutta Gupta

When a novel is categorised as 'Romance', I tend to view it more as a feel-good, chick-lit story with high predictability of storyline. Since that is not the kind of works I like to read, it takes a lot of motivation for me to pick it up. Paulami Dutta Gupta had sent me an e-copy of A Thousand Unspoken Words a few months ago in return for an honest review, and because of my prejudice against romance novels, I kept off the reading for so long.

But once I started reading, I realised that this was not your average mushy romance. A Thousand Unspoken Words is literary fiction, if I HAD TO label it, but otherwise I'd just leave it at being a very good story, well-told. This story doesn't have heroes and heroines. Riddhimaan and Tilottama's love story is not a story of battles with family or society, but it's a story of battling with one's own demons. In this story, Riddhimaan is not a prince charming and Tilottama is not a damsel in distress. If anything, this love story is as close to reality as one can get without being melodramatic about romance.

Riddhimaan is an idealist who turns into a materialist after a terrifying brush with harsh reality. Tilottama is an idealist who is in love with the idealist/Leftist writer Musafir, the pseudonym taken by Riddhimaan. When Tama and Riddhi meet after Musafir/Riddhi has transformed into the materialist, there are sparks of attraction, but a lack of conviction too. Tama finds it difficult to come to terms with the changed ideologies of Riddhi, and the writer is not able to reconcile the differences in the personalities of Musafir and Riddhimaan. Both have to deal with their demons before they can take their paths forward together.

The writing is simple despite the underlying debate between idealism and realism. A Thousand Unspoken Words is not just a love story but a subtle critique on the social and political systems. Dutta Gupta doesn't merely tell you a story - there are layers in the story that bring out important points such as the tyrannies of capitalism towards the poor, management of an NGO, coping with mental illnesses, dealing with one's demons, being non-judgemental....

The victory of A Thousand Unspoken Words is that Riddhimaan is not a hero and Tilottama is not a heroine. They are normal people to whom things happen. The question is whether you can deal with it or not. And in that sense too, neither of them are noble and sacrificing and epitomes of anything. They deal with things, make mistakes, try to correct themselves, and learn with every step. Their story is backed by supportive characters like Riddhi's mother Krishnakoli, his sister-in-law Mimi and Tama's father Shoumo Sen.

The characterisation in the novel is really well done - well-rounded. Tilottama is stuck with ideals of younger years, self-righteous, judgmental and doesn't easily let her hair down. Riddhimaan is fun-loving, stubborn, slightly egocentric, and constantly confused over the rift created within his identity through Musafir. Shoumo Sen is living in the past, crying over the spilt milk of his estate in Darjeeling, but supportive of his daughter and trying hard to move on. Krishnakoli loves her son and wants him to be happy, while being a mother to almost everyone else too. Every little character presented to the reader comes with a personality, and not as two-dimensional pictures.

What could have added a little bit more substance to the book is a stronger reason or trajectory of Musafir/Riddhi's transformation from the idealist to materialist. I somehow found it difficult to believe that just being attacked and hounded by people who hated his writings could have changed him so drastically.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 
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