I’ve always felt that there is no dearth of love stories in Indian literature. I’ve wondered about the same and how a good book in that genre must be to stand out of the umpteen others it competes with on the bookshelves. We don’t get time to know the book before we buy it. So it’s a spot none of us might like to be in.
This book, a love story written through exchanging letters, was maybe my first experience in reading an epistolary novel. Or maybe second at most. And it stands out of that crowd of books because of this. Let me try and put into perspective why that makes a difference.
Usually In love stories, the protagonists meet each other often, and express their love face to face, looking into the eyes of their loved ones and bringing into our minds, a picture of sometimes adorable and sometimes overdone proportion. In this novel, the two protagonists Uma and Abhi never meet often. They do, but only through their words. It is their description of their world that brings to life the setting both to each other, and to us, the readers. They do not stay in the same continent, let alone the same city. It’s a bond between two excellent friends that is shared through letters, and it’s a bond that grows through distance.
If you forget the fact that it is a letter, the book feels just like a conversation between two friends. Uma writes about her life as a student, stepping into the world of medicine that Abhi is already a part of. He’s in London, and she, in Calcutta. He starts the letter exchange by writing to her about his experience in the OT, and she responds back with her news. From thereon in, she tells him of anything and everything. In the frank, confident role that Madhumita has cast her in, Uma calls a spade a spade and shares with Abhi every little detail upfront, be it her attraction toward a guy or questions on sex. You can see her character progress as her life moves ahead, from a young girl to a married woman, and through her letters, you see how she stands up for what she believes in. The subcharacters in her world are well formed too… her mother who can’t understand some choices she makes, and her father who does and supports her even when his wife doesn’t. Through her world, we are taken through many “norms” of India that most of us know or have heard of. And through her world, we are also shown that she can and does survive those “norms” that become obstacles for her. Abhi on the other hand, is as mature as she is brash, as thoughtful as she is impulsive and as direct as he needs to be to answer her queries and understand her decisions. “I don’t know if you are right or wrong, Uma, but as always I am on your side.” Abhi’s words quite sum up his feelings for her.
The Other Side of the Table is a beautiful journey through emotions and leaves me quite happy as a reader. To read love, friendship, affection and life itself through a series of letters, that was quite an experience. There were perhaps a couple of places where editing might’ve been better. As a reader, I didn’t understand the medical terms and that kind of dampened the read a little. And also, the last letter felt out of sync when Abhi signs with his full name. The last one is the happiest one of the lot, so that felt quite out of place. This is a love story from an Indian author that I wouldn’t consider as a one-time read, and I found this very enjoyable.
IN A GIST:
Positives: Beautiful cover, quick read, emotions done justice and speaks of more than a love story.
Negatives: Medical terms were confusing to read, and the last letter ends oddly.
Title: The Other Side of the Table
Author: Madhumita Mukherjee
Genre: Fiction / Epistolary
Publishers: Fingerprint Publications
Price: INR. 195
(30th Nov, 2013)