Experience of loss

Experience of loss

K R Meera's 'The Unseeing Idol of Light' seamlessly intertwines the lives of multiple characters and tells a tale of love, loss and yearning

The Unseeing Idol of Light is a powerful novel that examines with deep sensitivity the many facets of love, loss, yearning, obsession and suffering. Love and loved ones, it would appear, are meant to be lost. Each loss is unique, and has its distinct effect on the sufferer. Each character deals with loss in his or her own ways. The narrative revolves around the grief-stricken Prakash, who is so tortured by the sudden and unexplained disappearance of his wife Deepti that he loses his sight. Prakash’s lover Rajani, Prakash’s father the judge, and Deepti’s father Madhav Menon willingly abandon the battlefield of this life after struggling against life’s bitter and repeated blows.

Damuettan, Prakash’s Valiyamma’s long-lost husband, returns after decades to a warm and dignified welcome from the wife he suddenly abandoned without any explanation. But he is politely sent back to go his own way again because Valiyamma’s love for him has gone and will never return. Suraj, the blind orphan boy whom Rajani takes under her wing, stoically accepts that his beloved teacher Rajani, herself a friendless orphan, must return him to the orphanage when she loses her job and livelihood.

There is indeed an overwhelming pall of sorrow and gloom permeating this novel. This is not a cheerful and optimistic read. Prakash learns at a tender age that the loss of loved ones may be senseless and sudden. Recurring images of Prakash’s childhood memories of his father’s suicide punctuate the narrative. “Very early in life, he mastered that lesson: When your loved ones vanish, the nights of those who are left behind become choked with emptiness.”

When Rajani, a woman weighed down by her own traumatic past, enters Prakash’s life, they are drawn to each other in an obsessive relationship. They crave each other, yet Prakash cannot give Rajani the love she yearns for. He cannot forget his glowing memory of Deepti. Rajani is an expert in tying hangman’s knots. “It had started in her childhood, when she and her mother would hide in the corners like baby rabbits when her father entered their home. He would shine his torch powered by eight batteries and eventually find them... Plucking Rajani from the arms of her cowering mother, her father would push her away forcefully before dragging Amma to the next room and bolting the door. Her mother would scream horrifically from within, while Rajani waited outside the room, swallowing her rising sobs, her little hands clasped over her mouth.”

The author portrays such experiences with crystal clarity and dignified restraint. The way their stories are told makes the characters more credible, and makes us feel for them.

There are occasional glimpses of light at the distant end of a dark and dismal tunnel. These flickers do not dispel the general gloom, but they are enough to show hope for more positive things in life. Prakash’s supportive friend Shyam does find a long lost love just when life for him seems beyond redemption. By the end of the novel, we and Prakash begin to realise that the long wait for Deepti is unlikely to bear fruit. Yet life brings fresh hope in the form of a surprising new person to comfort Prakash.

The author’s style and attention to craft make this a smooth and seamless read. The theme of blindness and vision recurs through the narrative, interlinking the journeys of souls tormented by the sudden and inexplicable loss of loved ones. Ultimately, life for the characters becomes a quest for elusive and changing subjective truths. Goals change, as experiences change the characters’ perceptions and understanding. “Truth and belief are not the same,” says Prakash. “That is not Deepti,” he avers when asked to identify a destitute woman who matches his missing wife’s description. “Her voice was like the soft knocking of a finger against a brass pitcher. Her fragrance was that of crushed jasmines. Her skin was as soft and shiny as a ripe mango... How can any woman be Deepti without all that? Sight is a relative phenomenon... You do not see what I see... I do not trust my eyes... The eye is just one sense organ among five.” As Prakash says elsewhere to his friend Shyam, “Sight is nothing but half light and half imagination... You see what you wish to see. And you avoid what you don’t want to confront.”

Life flows on in its mysterious course. Nature continues with the cycles of loss, death and rebirth. “The night, bedecked with jasmines, unfurled its tresses on the pathway beside the canal to deceive the sightless.” Such vivid descriptions reinforce the theme; the unpredictable pitfalls of life. In the midst of pervasive sorrow, the fragrance of ephemeral beauty also exists.

This novel is overall a memorable and moving read. The characters and their thoughts and experiences are portrayed with insight and conviction. The translation from the original Malayalam is skilfully done, a difficult feat when two very different languages are involved.