The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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WE WEREN’T LOVERS LIKE THAT By Navtej Sarna, Penguin, Rs 250

Set in contemporary New Delhi, Navtej Sarna’s novel, We Weren’t Lovers Like That, deals with a middleman whose life comes apart when his wife suddenly leaves him for a friend. Unable to come to terms with life, he finally decides to leave his job and travel to Dehradun in search of a lost love, his childhood memories, and to be healed. The novel takes the reader through Delhi’s party circuits, its government colonies of Rabindra Nagar and Andrews Ganj, barsatis in Defence Colony and well-known landmarks like Tughlakabad. It ends with a meditation near an old brewery which could be in Dehradun, Rajpur or Mussoorie.

Moving between Delhi, Bombay and Dehradun, the novel provides a glimpse of contemporary society and culture in India. There is a discourse on divorce, which brings to mind the treatment of the subject in Nayantara Sahgal’s Storm in Chandigarh and Amit Chaudhuri’s One World. The novel could be said to have three Blakeian stages: innocence, experience and higher innocence. Our postcolonial predicament is also mirrored in it, as a globalized society seeks to come to terms with its own frenetic pace.

Physical incompatibility in this novel seems to stem from emotional incompatibility. The wife appears to be socially well-adjusted, has a wide circle of friends, while the husband is a sensitive loner, unable to come to terms with the hectic pace of life. The trauma of divorce leaves its mark on his psyche.

The title of the novel poses a question: What does the “we” stand for — the hero and the wife, or the hero and the previous lover' The search for a lost unity can be compared to the sufi’s yearning for union with the divine, and Blake’s return to a higher innocence.

The hero’s journey to Dehradun is a symbolic journey through time. Can one recapture lost time or hold eternity in the palm of one’s hand' Family life in India, and how it affects the individual, are also delineated. Partition, kinship and the arranged marriage are the three markers of family life in the novel. All three are well-blended in the narrative. The hero’s quest is for individual fulfilment. Does he eventually find it' The answer is yes.

Navtej Sarna’s novel is one of the few contemporary Indian English novels that does not talk about politics. This is a welcome departure from the current trend towards seeing everything in terms of politics. The cosmopolitan society of Delhi and its chatterati are portrayed well. But is the return to the village, to one’s roots, a viable remedy to cosmopolitan angst'

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