A strong friendship

A strong friendship

Parvathi Ramkumar reviews Shriram Iyengar's latest book

As a whole, Let Me Go has its moments of suspense, an understanding of human nature, and a reinforcement of the fact that a man and a woman, or a boy and a girl, can be friends, and that friendship does not always have to turn into romance.

At first glance, Shriram Iyer’s novel, Let Me Go, seems to be the story of a romance. A childhood friendship between a boy and a girl that turns into something more, with separation and misunderstandings in between. There are other romances as well in Let Me Go. That much is true. But they are not between the characters the reader would expect. The protagonist Anshuman has a friend, Indu, and the novel follows them, and their friendship that grows stronger. And yet, they remain friends, progressing no further than that.

Many years ago, young Anshuman Kale met his landlord’s daughter, Indira Kelkar. They became friends. Indira or Indu was, even as a child, spontaneous and reckless and rather bold, with a tendency to burst into tears when things went wrong. Anshuman was quiet and reticent and controlled. Naturally, the two children became fast friends. School and board exams and mountain climbing were part of their routine.
When Let Me Go opens, Anshuman is in Australia, successful at his work, and about to get married to the half-Indian Alisha. He meets up with an old friend and rushes back to India, leaving Alisha in a quandary. She has not heard of Indu before, for Anshuman never told her.

Naturally, with their wedding dates fixed and with Anshuman far away in India, Alisha is suspicious. She follows him, discovers Indu, comes to a conclusion, and her relationship with Anshuman is strained. Anshuman, for his part, does a shoddy job explaining his friendship to his fiancée. This is a slow-moving story divided into sections with different timelines. The present leaps to the past, when Anshuman met Indu for the first time. Then the present is reintroduced, with Indu’s predicament and a certain Supreme Court verdict. The past comes again, when Indu meets Kapil and dives into a life of drugs and alcohol, and pregnancy.

Anshuman, for his part, is staid and far too forgiving, and his intense loyalty to Indu is conveyed convincingly. His talents, though, seem all over the place. He can develop apps that change the world, and he can write award-winning novels that change the world and inspire, in the words of a journalist, an entire generation. Alisha thinks he is obsessed with Indu and he does nothing to contradict her.

Alisha, on the other hand, is far more outgoing, yet sensitive, and she cannot, for the life of her, understand this odd friendship Anshuman shares with Indu. As for Indu, she is reckless and far too careless, with a peculiarly selfish core that often gives way to affection. These characters are not linear, and they do switch moods rapidly. Indu’s weeping at the strangest moments is an example. Or, Anshuman’s sudden snapping at Alisha for wondering about his relationship with Indu.

There are several minor characters in the story and their backstories are told in meticulous detail – which can sometimes lead to too much telling and not enough showing. Also, to elaborate on a minor character’s life history (an example would be the backstory of Sanjeev Mapuskar on page 75) seems to merely increase the length of the novel, detracting from the main narrative.

When Sheila Mathur is introduced on page 51, the reader is told in detail about her and her family – without showing much of why she is the way she is. Sheila is inconsistent throughout the book. Her first appearance seems to suggest that she is self-confident. A few pages later she is mild and meek, and easily swayed. And of course, we are told that Sheila is a beauty with brains. The male teachers like her, because they were tired of teaching ‘brainless beauties’ in the past. Unfortunately, those sections do read a little like an essay on the characters. There are also a few very strange utterances – Indu is ‘gloat-faced’ on page 45. Kapil, Indu’s boyfriend, drives 300 km in an hour. He must be an extremely efficient driver.

As a story of friendship, Let Me Go covers that theme well. Some of the backstories could have been trimmed, and the pacing is very slow. The back and forth sections with different timelines can be slightly confusing because the events of the present are lost, and the continuity of the story is broken.

As a whole, Let Me Go has its moments of suspense, an understanding of human nature, and a reinforcement of the fact that a man and a woman, or a boy and a girl, can be friends, and that friendship does not always have to turn into romance. Anshuman’s journey back to India leaving Alisha in the lurch was interesting, and there is a build-up of intrigue that works well.