Subject: past echoes

Mridula Garg is the author of several works in English and Hindi, and The Last Email is her latest. It is set some 10 years in the past. The emails that form the content of the book begin in 2008 and end in 2015.

The Last Email  is primarily a romance between two individuals. Maya, a writer fluent in English and Hindi, corresponds with a certain Kevin, a Scottish politician-priest of some repute. They had known each other before, and they have rekindled their now strictly email-based relationship - after a gap of some  40 years. Through the years, the two have faced tragedy, arrests, referenda for independence, and riots.

It is an unusually crafted account that is based on back-and-forth emails. Maya writes to Kevin, who began their interaction in the first place, and he responds. Poetry is exchanged, as is prose, and snippets of speeches, song lyrics, and book titles. Old memories are recalled, acquaintances they both knew are reintroduced through words. And as the email writers are both elderly, there is something to be said about what they have seen and experienced. Many of their conversations are rooted in the past, with focus on what happened decades ago.

Other characters and events are evoked as the pair reforges a bond that seems as strong as it was years ago.

Maya comes across as brash, independent, and a woman who speaks her mind. She is a writer  and has written exactly the same books as the author. She writes in English and Hindi, just like the author. And of course, her novel in Hindi, Chittacobra, caused a sensation, and she was arrested. She wrote an article about it afterwards, and emailed that article to Kevin. The article, of course, carries the name Mridula Garg.

Maya is surprised, and thrilled, to hear from Kevin after such a long period of time. Her memories about him are those she cherishes. She has undergone heartbreak in her life, and a broken marriage, and a husband who gambled excessively.

As for Kevin, he is Scottish, a man of fame, and someone who has, in the past, worked towards Scottish independence. He is a staid and rather placid character, as far as the emails are concerned anyway. He includes, for his part, snippets of his speeches to Maya. He also bears a startling resemblance to a certain real-world politician - right from his speeches to the title of his book. He is bound to his Christian faith, but not to dogma. He has been to India before, he speaks Bengali, and he is often on the lookout for Maya's work. He confesses to her that he was devoted to his wife, but Maya was always on his mind - their affair and their subsequent letters are secrets he believes he has kept quite convincingly from his family. And from the world at large.

And as the emails show and by his own confession, Maya's writings often leave him breathless.

The Last Email is an odd book with fiction and reality blurred. It is also self-indulgent, with both Maya and Kevin praising each other over the course of their long email interactions.

They were involved with each other in the past and their romance is saccharine. Several real people figure in the book and many of them are those Maya is unimpressed by. There are also some snippets from the BBC online and article extracts from The Scotsman. These articles are included almost verbatim with dates and bylines missing. They are also real. Take, for instance, the snippet on page 71.

The book also contains casteist and racist jibes, and some hints of misandry and a certain disdain for South Indian-ness. For example, on page 64, someone is "…an arrogant intellectual snob as only a South Indian Brahmin can be." Malayalam is spelt 'Malyalam' on page 60, and then page 61 has the line "I always thought while listening to Malayalam that it was like a river in full spate!" Is that supposed to be a compliment to the language? There's a stab at the Japanese on page 180: "If you want to punish yourself through slow torture, ask a Japanese to translate your book!"

On the whole, The Last Email stays away from politics, although there are exceptions where Kevin is concerned. The prose is informal and often repetitive, with a plethora of endearments going from one writer to the other. Not all the emails are engaging, and all of them are love letters that appear to invite voyeurism.

The emails are sometimes long, sometimes short, and they are, for a work of fiction as the book is supposed to be (it says so at the back), weak reading material. At 226 pages, The Last Email  certainly contains many letters.

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