Chaos Theory: A Novel By Anuvab Pal, Picador, Rs 499
Chaos theory is a domain of study in mathematics that examines how a dynamic system that is highly sensitive to initial conditions may exhibit major discrepancies in the end results. One of the pioneers of the theory, Edward Norton Lorenz, calls this the “butterfly effect” and describes ‘chaos’ as “when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” The ‘chaos’ stems from this conundrum of approximation.
Anuvab Pal’s novel pivots on chaos theory. The ambiguity of emotional determinism in its fictional space may also be called “the puzzle of attraction” or “the illusion of connectivity”. Mukesh Singh and Sunita Sen meet in the campus of Delhi University in the early 1960s. A tipsy Mukesh is flirting with a girl, and playing his favourite Shakespeare ‘game’ — he quotes from the Bard’s oeuvre, prompting the listener to locate the quote — and this invites Sunita’s response. On his way back home, Mukesh feels that she “made me nervous. She made me happy. Something had definitely happened”.
Both feel that “something” has happened, but neither knows exactly what. Their love does not follow a predictable path. They marry different persons willingly, knowing full well that their consorts are not quite the persons their hearts are after — perhaps because they do not want their unorthodox relationship to be reduced to a trite, socially identifiable kind.
Sunita names her son after Mukesh. Several years after her marriage, at a moment while she is with the elder Mukesh, she feels an urge to be kissed by him. However, her husband, Amit, barges in and wishes to take her back and she meekly complies. She explains: “Running into Mukesh’s arms would have been the mad thing to do. The movie thing. But it would have ended there. That’s it. Doing what I did is what we do in life.” This reminds one of the relationship between Amit and Labanya in Shesher Kobita, where the lovers prefer separation to protect their heady, ecstatic love from the degradation and desecration of household routine. Sunita prefers sanity over madness, but loves surrendering to the latter. In the US, she asks Mukesh to accompany her across miles whenever she feels like it, and Mukesh invariably responds in the affirmative. After one such meeting, Mukesh observes: “In the time we were thinking who felt what about whom, life had passed.” However, the lovers in Pal’s novel do not merely ‘think’ but ‘act’ their loves, though not in the usual manner.
A line from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 15 — “Everything that grows holds in perfection but a little moment” — features quite a few times in the lovers’ game. The lovers eternally look for those magic “little moments”. They prefer this search over the stability of a relationship. Their ‘choice’ baffles facile identification. Is it merely random ‘chaos’ mocking the accepted parameters of relationships, or is it a cherished “lightness of being”, or is it simply a rejection of the system of knowledge that “imposes a pattern, and falsifies”? Perhaps it builds a new poetics of the lovers’ space that is at once dispersive, disruptive and yet, intensely vibrant, and whose onto-topology is so defined by the French poet, Jacques Prévert: “We love each other, we live/ We live, each other we love/ And we don’t know what this life of ours is/ ...And we don’t know what this love of ours is.”
Pal’s novel uses two narrative voices, and contains some hilarious episodes. It is a teasing novel, and in some ways entertaining too, but not quite as absorbing as it could have been. Pal’s narrative skill does not quite live up to his conceptual ingenuity.