While on treks even I have often noticed, as did Oorja, the protagonist in ‘Mapping Love,’ the debut novel by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, that everyone is ‘in a hurry although everything around them is slow. They know that they have to make things happen before the sun sets…’ The narrative pace of this book, as if completely captivated by this observation, gets decidedly slow and then slower and the reader gets increasingly restless. Now do not assume that I am complaining because the book is not about compacting unlimited kinetic energy from all over to make things happen but to simply let thoughts and interpretations be the dominating force. This is not altogether unexpected as the novel is the work of a person who has directed films like Nil Batay Sannatta and Bareilly Ki Barfi after spending more than a decade in advertising where she won awards at Cannes Lions, New York festival, One show, Promax and Goafest.
Coming back to the Ashwiny model for mapping love, we have Oorja, the protagonist flying in from New York to have her destiny take her to a remote forest exploring a spiritual, unknown side, where she realizes that her life has indeed taken an acute turn. The author makes sure that her readers move along with her at her own pace and as a reader I found that quite agreeable… and this never made me yearn for ‘divine intervention of the invisible strength.’ Like the protagonist, I willingly travelled with the narrative ‘as an explorer who will not be sent back, who will find a dialogue between the inside and outside and live nowhere and everywhere.’ And this is how the novel wins over attention.
The incisive characterization in this book includes the protagonist’s Amma, Sudha Chaturvedi who knows well ‘the art of focus, to think of the present and not flit from one thing to the next was one of her traits…’, Vishal Chaturvedi is the ‘hypochondriac, regimented father’ and is portrayed as ‘a bhindi aficionado as he believed the vegetable had magical brain-enhancing power’ and ‘he imagined that one day an okra will fall on my head and I will be the Indian version of Newton’s story’. Her grandfather makes her look inside her mind as this is where fear alone has captured you and so ’baba expected all of us to have books in our hands. He always said, ‘You can learn every day from the smallest experiences and share your learning with every human being.’ He hardly spoke then. He hardly speaks now.’ With such people around, one is hardly surprised that Oorja displays a mind of her own and is forever stepping into her inimitable mode of uncovering and discovering even remote and hidden niches that actually end up enriching lives. What this also means is the narrative does not go around flying at full throttle but has the sedate gait of wanting to pause and find out reasons. So, if you are the sort of reader who loves to let each word linger until it is absorbed, you may feel restless. The book never really mimics a rocket roaring upwards at some unheard-of escape velocity but is more like one that is already in orbit and contentedly floating in space. I know this may sound outlandish, but this is the way my mind interpreted the narrative as I read it.
However, if such a narrative is pitched to be recast as a TV series or even a film, it is going to be a major challenge for not just the director but even the cast. Do you think we have the masses clamoring for another film that resembles Yadein that starred Sunil Dutt decades back? Or any of those films that remain in an analytical mode throughout? But then, if this novel does metamorphose into a film, I would be among the first to go and watch it. Or wait until it reaches the small screen at home. I say this because this might turn out to be a film that will have to power to make you close your eyes and go into your own past… ‘on a ruminating day. On a documenting day. On a day when we seek company. On a day when we are waiting for someone.’ Like one of those books that have been read and then shut and are ‘rarely opened till someone senses their need on a lonely day. Until then, they are just there, waiting on a bookshelf, quiet and still.’ Yes, the film… oops!… this book is like ‘a stream of water… so still even when it is moving.’
Now if you are wondering if Oorja just goes around living her life ‘looking at the rear-view mirror’ and if there is not some male around to ease her out of this phase and change everything, you must know that there is Anang. But, as the blurb will helpfully let you know, before any such thing happens Oorja ‘must first untangle the secrets of their shared past.’ If this revelation sounds like a thriller, go ahead, and find out. Hope this review tells you which way to go.
Title: Mapping Love
Author: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd
27 May 2022