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Landscapes of the Heart

Namrata Chaturvedi

By Jahnavi Barua
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 203, 250.00


Jahnavi Barua's Rebirth reminds one of love poetry where the inner landscape of the narrator is mapped on to the outer landscape that sometimes reveals and sometimes affects the states of his/her heart. In this novel, which travels from disappoint-ment to grief to placidity to hope, the landscapes of Bangalore and Guwahati appear to mirror the meanderings of the narrator's heart. This is the story of Kaberi, of her struggles, her sorrows and her homecoming. Kaberi is a married woman, who is experien-cing a tumult of emotions at a defining stage of her life; she is carrying her baby in her womb, and dealing with a failed marriage marked by years of frustrated attempts at conceiving a baby and her husband's affair with another woman. In a refreshing and individual narrative style, Kaberi addresses the novel to her baby, who is a part of her yet distinct from her. The narrative is therefore spontaneous and natural and more importantly, warm. The objectivity as well as emotional appeal of the narrative is perfectly balanced by Barua so that it is untouched by the voyeuristic aspect of reading someone's diary and is not coldly journalistic either. The narrative shifts between two contours of Kaberi's life—Bangalore where she lives and has made a home and life for herself, and Guwahati which is her homeland that travels with her and haunts her always. The penetrating and reflecting eye of Barua makes it possible to bring Bangalore and Guwahati alive to the reader, even while the narrator is away from either. This novel is able to strike an organic balance between the personal and the political. As recent English fiction and poetry from India's North East has shown, the political situation in the region slips unselfconsciously into literature. In the works of Dhruba Hazarika, Robin S. Ngangom, Desmond Kharmawphlang or Mona Zote for instance, the political backdrop of the region that they are writing about is very strong. In Rebirth too, the Assam movement led by AASU (All Assam Students Union) and its repercussions on the lives of ordinary people in the state breathe distinctly in the background of the story. In her solitude and agony, Kaberi travels back and forth to Assam; to a whole different life with its distinct colours, tastes, sights and smells and its touch upon her being. The narrator evokes the landscape and life of Assam, not through ...

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