Music & memories

Music & memories

Faraway Music, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, Hachette, 2012, pp 384, Rs 299

Protagonist Piya Choudhury of Faraway Music by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is a mysterious figure. Being a bestselling author of books with lyrical titles, Piya seems to have told many stories other than her own.

On a 14 -hour flight from New York to India for the launch of her autobiography, Piya, through her interactions with Pakistani journalist Sumaya, relives her past once again and is forced to remember some painful details.

Faraway Music is a book that traverses the past and portrays the present. There’s Piya now, established and widely acknowledged as an author of repute. And there was a Piya in the past, whose childhood was peopled with grandparents and a distant, but not entirely unaffectionate, mother, and an enigmatic missing father. An unexpected and rather brutal encounter leaves the impetuous young Piya shattered and confused, prompting her to move to Mumbai to become a journalist. Her rise through the ranks of journalism leads to her discovery of what could eventually turn into a controversial and sensational story, which is, ultimately, left unpublished.

Characters in the book have promise and have some identity of their own. There’s Abir, whom Piya was besotted with. That failed relationship finds her at a crossroads. There’s the Australian artist David Cicconi, Piya’s husband for a time, strange, mystical, hailed a genius, who seems to know Piya’s innermost thoughts, and helps her discover her creative talents.

Piya’s mother and grandmother come across as strong women in their own right, dealing with situations as they arise with grace and care. And there’s Piya herself, who eventually becomes successful and dynamic. Greater focus on her successful books, and what they are about, in further detail, would however have helped the reader gain more insights into the character and her thought processes.

In essence, Faraway Music has the ingredients of a well-crafted novel. It does have its instances of lyrical candour, particularly in the beginning, when a certain Diwali is described with its fire and jasmine lights. All said and done, however, the writing leaves much to be desired. A little more attention to detail, particularly in conversations and overall descriptions, a little more focus on Piya’s writing endeavors, and more emphasis on her own present personality could have been included.

And even then, the novel has its moments. When Piya’s story, after all her hard work and espionage for India News, is stymied, for instance, the character struggles through succeeding events, and that’s pretty convincing. The air of tension at the office, and the expectations, trepidations and travails of a journalist who’s just moved from a smaller publication to a larger one — from the slightly more personal and intimate atmosphere at News Today to the frightening ambience at India News — is portrayed very convincingly in the novel.

According to the blurb, Faraway Music is ‘sensuous, profound, lyrical and moving’, and the book certainly tries to live up to that promise. Piya’s story is one of longing and loss, hopes and lost dreams, self-discovery and betrayal, the heartbreak of romance, of friendship and lasting bonds. However, the ideas themselves do not translate very well into the prose here. Faraway Music has its share of editing anomalies. There are also unwanted commas marking some pages, and missing commas on others, particularity when it comes to dialogues.

Conversations are stilted, long winded and unrealistic, almost to the point of strangeness. If being lyrical was an aim, these conversations certainly miss the mark. Poetic dialogue does not necessarily mean intense realism, but it does not mean complete unrealism either. Besides, the lack of ‘said’ makes dialogues rather tedious. To replace every possible instance of ‘said’ with a verb, such as ‘asked’, ‘enquired,’ ‘pouted’, ‘quizzed’, among others, jar the pacing of the narrative. Not to mention the unusual usages in the novel, like ‘…his eyeballs danced.’

Stronger writing, better proofreading, and greater focus on smoothening the narrative and tweaking the dialogue would have made Faraway Music closer to what it claims to be on the blurb.

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