Fish Out Your Chapter
By Priyangwada Perera
It was quite by chance that I came across one Lipi Mehta’s article online. She speaks of how she fished out her copy of Chetan Bhagat’s first novel 5 Point Someone. “It was comfortably tucked between The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
The sight caused me slight discomfort. Why? Since my childhood, I’ve heard about what kinds of books ‘intelligent people’ should read and what they should avoid.” Mehta says that she came to the realisation that she has grown up, “being a snob about reading,” powered by her friends, the school librarian or the internet.
Having read Rohinton Mistry, having studied Amitav Ghosh, still going on to read all of Bhagat’s books, I for one understand what Mehta says crystal-clear. In the course of education, some of us have become ‘snobs’ about reading. Even now, there are some kinds of books and authors that I would not dare to touch. I have already decided that they are not worthy of my time.
This is why it is difficult for a new writer to emerge. Furthermore, some readers approach them with a pre-conceived notion. With means of entertainment found in abundance in this day and age, selective reading or being extremely picky is quite strong among the contemporary readership.
It is to this arena Surath De Mel launches his first novel, Thi ha Tha. Those who already know him and fans of his social media columns would probably jump at the chance to read his novel but he might be unknown to those who are not obsessed with the virtual world of the world of social media. Whether he likes it or not, De Mel’s novel comes with baggage. Approaching De Mel’s novel with the internet columnist persona of De Mel's in mind has its ups and downs. Some may reject De Mel- the novelist without even reading his book. Some may search for De Mel - the columnist with the novelist in their minds. Either way, we meet De Mel the novelist in Thi ha Tha in a very different mode.
Thi ha Tha is a modern-day love story. You may ask what is modern about love? Fair enough. But it is the depiction of the modern day love that takes you by surprise. These are the age-old sentiments that have existed but were suppressed by self discipline and cultural pressure.
Where there was a loophole, enough space to squeeze yourself out of these moulds, love has more-or-less been the same. But let me tell you, if by some remote chance you are an idealist, believing in the ‘purity’ of love, Thi ha Tha slaps you awake. In the heedless, frivolous, momentary emotion that love is brought down to, I was thoroughly displeased with the novelist. Yet, being honest and experienced with the worldly affairs I was rather angry at myself.
It is my expectations that disappointed me. De Mel’s work was brilliant, brutally honest. That is hard to digest but still it is the truth. "Definitely not the ‘only’ truth," my conscience screamed. Even though I say De Mel in the virtual space is different, it is not difficult to find the same self in the novel. If ‘truth’ hurt me, it is his victory.
If truth disappointed me, his language enthralled me in compensation. I soon located the presence I loved online. The exceptional similes and examples keep you cackling. The writer is so confident of what he has to say. Moments later you set the fun aside and ponder on the truth he has so subtly infused into the humour.
Long ago, a friend reminded me not to look for the author in his work of art. I may have studied Roland Barthes and the Death of the Author but I still struggle to differentiate one from the other. I constantly pinched myself to reality and reminded myself that the protagonist is in fact Geeth and not De Mel. But still, I was not convinced. Luckily, it does not matter. Divya and Geeth do not create an extraordinary love story. Had it been out of the ordinary, how would you and I accept it? They are deeply flawed by virtue of being human. Yet, they have fine justifications on whatever they do. My moral policing left me dumbfounded at the ease De Mel comes up with everything.
De mel's total comfort with self and what he wants to express gets passed on to the book. We are all lulled in comfort. Thi ha Tha is the kind of novel you want to read again and again. Read twice to grasp the true depth of those simple sentences. Read thrice to figure out what his philosophy is. Read another time for pure entertainment. The chunks from his passages are marked and kept just so that I can leaf the book randomly and find his brilliant expressions.
If you want a description that sounds really impressive, a linguistic and philosophical study of love is what Thi ha Tha offers. But it does not come in complicated language that needs a glossary. Your glossary of emotions and experiences is more than enough to understand and enjoy it. Where your experiences differ, as in my case - you might feel like slapping the writer hard but you will recover. You would want to apologise and accept it has been a unique experience. It is the perfect language and style, cleverly recuperating a far-from-idyllic human experience. You might even want to be thankful to the author for dragging you back to earth from that cloud nine!
It rips morals apart, glorifies the romantic and the sexual desires associated and yet, it brings them all as a ‘temporary state’. There is no Raj playing a mandolin in a field of mustard flowers. There is no Simran running to him saying she would die in his embrace. There is just Geeth and Divya and a bunch of other girls and boys and their friends, parents and rivals who would each enter or force themselves into each other's lives. Things happen, the good and the bad. Then people move on. Just like the lives of yours and mine. It is our chapters that De Mel has put into words. You would definitely want to fish out your chapter in his book.