`Novels are second lives’, says Orhan Pamuk. He’s referring to the reader, of course, not the writer, and the act of reading, that complex negotiation between the words on the page and the imagination of the reader.
The structure of Ira Singh’s new book, Pilgrimage, is hard to pin down. Although the story proceeds in roughly anti-chronological order, the events it focuses on don’t lend themselves to a clean cause-and-effect framing. Instead, one needs to process them in terms of the impact that they have on the narrator’s inner self, and thence on the reader.
You were right to tell me that in life it is not the future which counts, but the past.”
― Patrick Modiano, Missing Person
Ira Singh’s second novel, Pilgrimage tells the story of Monica or Mona, who belongs to western Uttar Pradesh, through three phases of her life and the events that contributed to making her who she is. The three sections, titled “Pilgrimage”, “Transgressions” and “Punishment” take us on a journey through her life in reverse. In this manner, the book allows us to unearth how the life of a woman from the 1980s to present-day India impacts and transforms her existence.
Ravinder continues to work longer and harder in the field than he used to, because though he longs for home, he feels a desire to escape as well, to recreate the life he had led as a bachelor. Later he will talk little about the years at field after he got married, it is as though they were private in a way he could not, perhaps, even have articulated to himself
The Surveyor, Ira Singh’s debut novel, is both an intimate portrait of family life as well as an exploration of more public histories. The author, who teaches English Literature at Miranda House, Delhi, tells Renu Dhole what drew her to the subject.