An Atlas of impossible longing – A Book of Deep longing

An atlas of impossible longing - An essay about how the dreams of the book's characters' change to impossible longings and shape up a purely realistic fiction.

Such an intriguing title this book has – An atlas of impossible longing. There is a virtue in the fact that many of our desires turn into impossible longings. As we mature, we realize that certain aspects of our desires turn out to be fantasies and dreams and that they won’t materialize in our conventional cyclic existence. However, it’s unfathomable for us human beings to understand that what is a need for one person turns out to be an impossible longing for the other.

The author tells us a narrative of one such longing, in fact, a group of such longings.

The book is about a couple of characters, Mukunda and Bagul. Oh, wait. Is it really about Mukunda and Bagul? Well, at least that’s what the back cover of the book conveys to us. But, I was entirely clueless about who the book was about after completing the initial chapters of the book. I can confidently say that it is one of the rarest novels where I could not even find the mention of the lead characters after one-third of the novel was almost finished.

The Beginning

The narrative begins with Bagul’s grandparents. It talks about their life story in detail. It then moves on to her parents. It talks about their lives in depth. It talks about their relationship with their parents. After explaining the characters and their ideologies, it eventually lands on Bagul. And of course, on Mukunda too. It delves into their childhood and explores the relationship between them. And lastly, it grooves into the adult lives of Mukunda and Bagul and explains how the very nature of their characteristics turns them into uniquely interesting people quite like their older generation.

I was profoundly intrigued by the idea of opening the story with a deep origin history, so deep that it makes me question at various junctions on whom the story is concerning.

The book starts at a pretty slow pace. Slow as a tortoise. There isn’t much action going on initially. Despite the story spanning three generations, not many actions take place in the entire book. I guessed this fact with the way the narrative gets established in the initial chapters.

It proved to be right as I sailed through the final chapters of the book. ‘Not much action’ does not mean ‘not much story.’ In fact, the beauty of the novel itself lies in the details through which it weaves the story. The depth of information provided by the descriptive adds to the strengths of the book.

Amulya and Kannanbala

As Bagul’s grandfather Amulya roams about his daily chores, I got an idea of how Amulya thinks and acts through his conversions and unexpressed thoughts. I could relate with his character and applaud his portrayal throughout the book. Slowly, Amulya begins to find life in a well-developing city like Calcutta tedious. This thought, in turn, leads to the first significant conflict of the plot.

When Amulya thinks from his point of view and retreats to a calm and heavenly village called Songarh, he fails to understand his wife Kannanbala’s perspective and her thoughts and wishes. The unfulfilled longings of Kannanbala blended with the unempathetic behaviour of her husband lead to the degradation of her health and well-being.

There is also an excellent portrayal of Songarh and its outskirts where Amulya and Kannanbala move in. Thus, Amulya longs for freedom and solitude that he seldom finds in the city while Kannanbala wants for the family bonding that she could never find in the village.

An atlas of impossible longing
An atlas of impossible longing

Nirmal

Meanwhile, the tale introduces their children, two sons. It depicts one of them, Nirmal, in sheer detail. Nirmal receives extensive detailing because he is to become the heart of the story pretty soon. Of course, I had no idea about this when Nirmal gets introduced. There is a charming description of their family’s marriage tradition narrated via Nirmal’s marriage.

The character of Nirmal is considerably tricky to understand and appreciate as he undergoes a shocking transformation as the story advances. Starting as a calm and simple son of his parents, he transforms into an admirable adult as he loses the purpose of his life with the death of his wife. His longing to lead an uncomplicated yet peaceful life shatters. Before the fragments of his shattered longing appear back to haunt him, he resolves to act and vanishes from his village.

Mukunda and the increasing tension

The demise of his wife happens in a slightly unusual manner, which is highly dramatizing. This act serves a crucial purpose in defining the journey of the novel. His wife’s death occurs while delivering birth to his daughter, Bagul. Bagul gets introduced literally after all this drama. There is also a back story for Mukunda. And then the tale spins around the childhood of Mukunda and Bagul.

It fathoms deep into their relationship and builds a bond so strong yet so malleable at the same time. The gravity of their relationships goes profoundly against the family’s age-old traditions. As a reader, I could sense the tension intensifying as both of them grow closer and closer. As the petals of the new flowers slowly begin to blossom, the older flowers’ attention shifts towards them.

This tension emanates from the basis that Mukunda’s origin is unfamiliar to everyone in the family, including Nirmal. As a result, Mukunda gets banished to Calcutta. Only Amulya and I knew the truth behind Mukunda’s history. Amulya, regrettably, is not alive to tell the tale. The fact that I knew the secret, made the read more engaging and compelling.

While Mukunda and Bagul grow up, Nirmal wanders around to discover a motive for his survival. He seeks to focus his career on his passion. He attempts to rekindle his lost love. He aspires to be a father to Baghul. Eventually, he could seldom accomplish any of the above. Nevertheless, time does, in a few circumstances, not give a second opportunity.

The big jump

Following a blank page, I hear a fully grown Mukunda speak, who interestingly becomes an architect by profession. I pondered if at least his life could make something significant, unlike his elders. Sadly, he becomes the centrepiece of all the longings planted collectively. An atlas of impossible longings is Mukunda himself.

The final part of the story deals with how mukunda matures into a man with responsibilities he never dreamt of. A wife, a son, a job he neither likes nor hates, the uncertainities grow deeper day by day. Will Mukunda meet Bagul and Nirmal? Will his longings find an answer that could at least make him feel satisfied and content for all the miseries of his life? Does all the miseries have a purpose in our life? I’ll skip the philosophizing and let you think about it. Well, as for the questions concerning Mukunda, you’ll eventually find the answers as you flip through the final chapters of the book.

The adult life of Mukunda is a little less engaging and boring in certain parts. But the entire book maintains the tone that carries on from the first page till the end. And this tone holds the interest of the reader sharp and active as to what follows next. I would be additionally happy if the author had handled the final part to make it a tad more enjoyable. This part was surely dragging despite the never-ending detailing. The climax felt forceful and didn’t make me applaud either.

Anuradha roy, Indian Author
A still of Anuradha Roy, the author of ‘An atlas of impossible longing’

Work of art

The works of literature of this stature should avoid the usual cliches and conceive an abstract conclusion to their novels as this would keep the questions lingering in the readers’ minds long after reading the book. I eagerly expect ambitious works like these to have such thought-provoking endings.

The whole book is a glorious canopy of character studies. Anuradha Roy, the author herself, speaks out in an interview on how she creates the story based on characters. Every character gets adequate space to showcase its nature in detail. Letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, para after para, and page after page, there is a structure that slowly provides a complete architecture of the characters.

This book is one of the best books I have read by Indian authors. The author ticks numerous valuable points I would anticipate in a book. The priceless beauty of the book is that I could relate with most of the personas. Every character made an impact on me. Few of them like Nirmal, Amulya, Mukunda had an emotional impact. While characters like Meera, Mrs.Barnum did not fail to impress. Last but never least, books like ‘An atlas of impossible Longing’ and authors like ‘Anuradha Roy’ must be sincerely praised.

An atlas of impossible longing - Book
  • Title – An Atlas of impossible Longing
  • Author Anuradha Roy
  • Country India
  • Published on – 15 January 2008
  • Genre Drama
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