Complex relationship: Keeping in touch

EducationWorld May 2022 | Books Magazine

Keeping in Touch, written by Anjali Joseph, published by Westland piblications is priced at Rs.599. The book is an expertly written novel that transports the reader into myriad cultural scenarios of north-east India and London.

Keeping in Touch by award-winning novelist Anjali Joseph is a love story centering around Keteki Sharma and Ved Ved in their 30s living hectic, jet-set lives. Though it’s love at first sight for Ved, when he sees Keteki at London’s Heathrow Airport in casual jeans and shirt, while Keteki revels in the relationship with her new lover, she takes time to make up her mind about settling down with him. Thus begins a whirlwind romance between two individuals entirely unknown to each other. As a freelance designer and curator, Keteki’s work makes travel normative as does Ved’s who is a venture capitalist. Nearing 40 now, Ved has been feeling the absence of familial warmth, love and affection and wants to settle down but Keteki (39) is wary of commitment, almost afraid to commit to a long-term relationship. Spanning across Assam and London, their affair unfolds like a performance across continents, with the author filling in details of their lives.

Keeping in Touch is alternately fast-paced and slow moving and transports the reader into the myriad cultural scenarios of North East India and London. There are vivid observations about the topography of riverine Assam, its fertile land and verdant fields alternating with its bustling, noisy, polluted cities teeming with youngsters who party hard and make merry with abandon. Joseph portrays an enigmatic and fascinating picture of the spiritual traditions of Assam — goddess worship and tantricism, Xonkordeb vaishnavism that constitute its complex and sophisticated ethnic and cultural fabric. Keteki’s home-coming just in time for Durga puja celebrations and her reunion with family and friends in Guwahati, become occasions to celebrate these distinctive, age-old traditions, contrasting them with the noisy contemporaneity of the present. The temple of mother goddess Kamakhya endorses the ancient and glorious historical Assamese past and the line of valorous kingdoms and dynasties that worshipped her.

Keteki’s travels to various north-eastern cities including Jorhat, Majauli and Aizawl; to the mountains for a yoga retreat; to villages to establish her new business venture are manifold expositions of the culture of the Seven Sister states. Invigorating and keeping up the demand for traditional weaves and fabrics is instrumental in preserving the weavers’ means of livelihood.

Ved’s venture capitalism brings him to Assam to finance an erstwhile British-owned company manufacturing Everlasting Lucifer, a light bulb with a filament that can last for decades as the name suggests. Striking workers, an accidental fire and frustrating glitches and superstitious beliefs at the factory exasperate him and reveal how present-day politics, red-tapism and moribund beliefs define the region’s business environment. Later, his taking up residence in Guwahati while he waits for Keteki to make up her mind becomes the reason to foreground aspects of the Assamese way of life, a sharp contrast to the weekend getaways, pub culture and work which characterise life in London and Suffolk.

The narrative foregrounds Keteki’s layered persona, while Ved is like a satellite compelled by unknown forces of attraction to revolve around her. Keteki’s childhood was fraught with rejection and abuse in a dysfunctional family; a huge trust deficit consequently becomes a part of her personality and her reluctance to commitment; the houses she has grown up in, all of them instrumental to the dance she and Ved have been choreographing from the time she explicitly wards him off, stating that she gets her name from a trickster bird that leaves its young to thrive in other birds’ nests. In more ways than one, Keteki and Ved’s relationship is an inversion of the conventional roles associated with male and female stereotypes.

The binding force of keeping in touch plays out in several ways. At a literal level, it could involve Keteki and Ved remaining in touch with each other, or as Joy mama (uncle) states quite simply, Keteki’s mother not keeping in touch with them. At another, it could involve keeping in touch with one’s place of belonging or one’s home and culture. And at yet another level, it could refer to keeping in touch with one’s self or inner being. It is this ability to remain connected with themselves or their ability to listen to their inner voices that brings Ved and Keteki together. Moreover, reliving or rethinking one’s past, reviving old relationships, moving on, accepting change and letting go — all form part and parcel of this theme.

Keeping in Touch explores pertinent personal, social and political issues of people in contemporary society by means of insinuation, understatement, explicit discussions, irony and humour; it is only rarely that protagonists let go of themselves emotionally. It is an engaging, sensitively imagined and expertly written novel, serenely navigating the intricacies of a multifaceted culture and a complex central protagonist.

Keeping in Touch by award-winning novelist Anjali Joseph is a love story centering around Keteki Sharma and Ved Ved in their 30s living hectic, jet-set lives. Though it’s love at first sight for Ved, when he sees Keteki at London’s Heathrow Airport in casual jeans and shirt, while Keteki revels in the relationship with her new lover, she takes time to make up her mind about settling down with him. Thus begins a whirlwind romance between two individuals entirely unknown to each other. As a freelance designer and curator, Keteki’s work makes travel normative as does Ved’s who is a venture capitalist. Nearing 40 now, Ved has been feeling the absence of familial warmth, love and affection and wants to settle down but Keteki (39) is wary of commitment, almost afraid to commit to a long-term relationship. Spanning across Assam and London, their affair unfolds like a performance across continents, with the author filling in details of their lives.

Keeping in Touch is alternately fast-paced and slow moving and transports the reader into the myriad cultural scenarios of North East India and London. There are vivid observations about the topography of riverine Assam, its fertile land and verdant fields alternating with its bustling, noisy, polluted cities teeming with youngsters who party hard and make merry with abandon. Joseph portrays an enigmatic and fascinating picture of the spiritual traditions of Assam — goddess worship and tantricism, Xonkordeb vaishnavism that constitute its complex and sophisticated ethnic and cultural fabric. Keteki’s home-coming just in time for Durga puja celebrations and her reunion with family and friends in Guwahati, become occasions to celebrate these distinctive, age-old traditions, contrasting them with the noisy contemporaneity of the present. The temple of mother goddess Kamakhya endorses the ancient and glorious historical Assamese past and the line of valorous kingdoms and dynasties that worshipped her.

Keteki’s travels to various north-eastern cities including Jorhat, Majauli and Aizawl; to the mountains for a yoga retreat; to villages to establish her new business venture are manifold expositions of the culture of the Seven Sister states. Invigorating and keeping up the demand for traditional weaves and fabrics is instrumental in preserving the weavers’ means of livelihood.

Ved’s venture capitalism brings him to Assam to finance an erstwhile British-owned company manufacturing Everlasting Lucifer, a light bulb with a filament that can last for decades as the name suggests. Striking workers, an accidental fire and frustrating glitches and superstitious beliefs at the factory exasperate him and reveal how present-day politics, red-tapism and moribund beliefs define the region’s business environment. Later, his taking up residence in Guwahati while he waits for Keteki to make up her mind becomes the reason to foreground aspects of the Assamese way of life, a sharp contrast to the weekend getaways, pub culture and work which characterise life in London and Suffolk.

The narrative foregrounds Keteki’s layered persona, while Ved is like a satellite compelled by unknown forces of attraction to revolve around her. Keteki’s childhood was fraught with rejection and abuse in a dysfunctional family; a huge trust deficit consequently becomes a part of her personality and her reluctance to commitment; the houses she has grown up in, all of them instrumental to the dance she and Ved have been choreographing from the time she explicitly wards him off, stating that she gets her name from a trickster bird that leaves its young to thrive in other birds’ nests. In more ways than one, Keteki and Ved’s relationship is an inversion of the conventional roles associated with male and female stereotypes.

The binding force of keeping in touch plays out in several ways. At a literal level, it could involve Keteki and Ved remaining in touch with each other, or as Joy mama (uncle) states quite simply, Keteki’s mother not keeping in touch with them. At another, it could involve keeping in touch with one’s place of belonging or one’s home and culture. And at yet another level, it could refer to keeping in touch with one’s self or inner being. It is this ability to remain connected with themselves or their ability to listen to their inner voices that brings Ved and Keteki together. Moreover, reliving or rethinking one’s past, reviving old relationships, moving on, accepting change and letting go — all form part and parcel of this theme.

Keeping in Touch explores pertinent personal, social and political issues of people in contemporary society by means of insinuation, understatement, explicit discussions, irony and humour; it is only rarely that protagonists let go of themselves emotionally. It is an engaging, sensitively imagined and expertly written novel, serenely navigating the intricacies of a multifaceted culture and a complex central protagonist.

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