As we go through Arundhati Roy's novel, life reveals itself first in fragments like a Jigsaw Puzzle, then emerges a shadowy pattern and finally a story takes shape.We see here and there, a few clever strokes of the artist's brush, till things begin to fall into place and a face emerges. A face - scarred, bruised, burned and tired- but starkly real; as real as life itself. Small things of life, certain not-so-very-noticeable kind of facts, in her hands come out with a richness and vividity, that none but a keen observer and admirer of these small things could portray.
To it, is added this knowledge of the novelist, that small things do matter most in life, small tears make big passions, small hopes - big fears and small dreams leave big irreplaceable voids in life. Most of all we feel the helplessness of human beings - social animals as we are, with laws governing our feelings, the ' love laws 'as the writer puts it, and there is no escape from the truth. A few rebellions against the cold blooded laws end in an inevitable surrender after an imbecile struggle; as if the cost of life is to be paid by accepting the defeats heaped upon you, till you are completely exhausted in the ill fated fight.
It is a world where death dominates. We meet murdered childhood ; we come across slaughtered dreams ;Sophie Mol drowns leaving a void , Ammu dies without leaving any; and Velutha is mercilessly butchered by the 'Love laws '. And where death is not visible to the naked eyes, it could be felt like a large looming presence. Where it is not around, it is within. we see death working inside Estha , making him numb gradually. And pain - is the thread that weaves everything together , even small joys.
Characters are introduced bit by bit, through their thoughts and desires, through their hopes and fears. It's a journey through the mind and soul of one character to another. The story begins with Rahel coming back to her native village 'Ayemenam' to meet her twin brother Estha, after a span of 23 years. They are both 31 now- 'a viable dieable age'. Rahel recalls the incidents of their childhood, the process of growing up together with her brother and coming up face to face with life...it's brutalities. 23 years later much has changed. Rahel is now divorced and Estha has sought shelter in silence - that has hardened through years.
" It had been a gradual winding down and closing shop. A barely noticeable quietening. As though he had simply run out of conversation and had nothing left to say."
And Rahel too "... grew up without a brief. Without anybody to arrange a marriage for her. Without anybody who would pay her dowry and therefore without an obligatory husband looming on her horizon.
So as long as she wasn't noisy about it, she remained free to make her own enquiries...into life and how it ought to be lived.
...Rahel drifted into marriage like a passenger drifts towards an unoccupied chair in an airport lounge."
Estha and Rahel were dizygotic twins, born of two but simultaneously fertilized eggs. As Rahel recalls, even in their remotest child-hood, they never resembled each other. There was no confusion regarding 'who is who?' about them. But...
" The confusion lay in a deeper more secret place.
In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as me, and separately, individually as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese Twins, physically separate but with joint identities."
Rahel's husband Larry loved her tenderly, but could not quite make out the emptiness of Rahel's eyes . He took it for indifference or despair and was quite unable to understand
" That the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the Quietness in the other. That the two things fitted together . Like stacked spoons, like familiar lover's bodies ."
They got divorced .
Rahel recalls in her memory the two small children, living on the edge, seeing their little world crumbling, yet innocent, and therefore calm and happy. Every day adding more to their experiences of the harsh world, adding more to their doubts and loneliness, fears and insecurities. Two small children with grown up brains. Rahel remembers the innocent fear she had of loosing the affection of her mother by saying anything that might hurt her. And Estha, the little philosopher for his age got acquainted with two thoughts -
a) Anything can happen to anyone.
b) It is best to be prepared.
The wayward life they lead as an adult is the result of an insecure, unprotected childhood. They are the product of an exceptionally disturbed family life and separation from parental security as well as from the innocent support they had of each other.
Roy has very efficiently painted the haunting emptiness in the life of the twins belonging to a broken home .
" To Ammu her twins seemed like a pair of small bewildered frogs engrossed in each other's company, lolloping arm in arm down a highway full of hurtling traffic. Entirely oblivious of what trucks can do to frogs ."
Life is but a process of learning . And knowledge brings pain with it as it takes away the bliss of innocence. In the delicate age of Childhood when consciousness has just opened her eyes, every event stamps it's deliberate imprints on the still fresh canvass of life. And these shape our personalities. the insecurities of their childhood leave the twins unable to adjust with life, thereby seeking solace in each other .
" They were strangers who had met in a chance encounter . They had known each other before life began ."
The two misfits of the world fit into each other's incomplete spheres... the last chapters highlight the undercurrent of pain that the story helds all through .
" But what was there to say?
Only that there were tears.... Only that what they shared that night was not happiness but hideous grief. Only that once again they broke the love laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much."
- Meeta .