Lessons In Forgetting by Anita Nair
Synopsis Of Lessons In Forgetting
A beautifully told story of redemption, forgiveness and second chances
When we first see Meera, she is a carefully groomed corporate wife with a successful career as a writer of cookbooks. Then one day her husband fails to come home after a party and she becomes responsible not just for her children but her mother and grandmother, and the running of Lilac House, their rambling old family home in Bangalore.
Enter Professor J.A. Krishnamurthy, or JAK, a renowned cyclone studies expert, on a very different trajectory in life. In a bedroom in his house lies his nineteen-year-old daughter Smriti, left comatose after a vicious attack on her while she was on holiday at a beachside town. A wall of silence and fear surrounds the incident—the grieving father is helped neither by the local police, nor by her boyfriend in his search for the truth.
Through a series of coincidences, Meera and JAK find their lives turning and twisting together, with the unpredictability and sheer inevitability of a cyclone. And as the days pass, fresh beginnings appear where there seemed to be only endings.
Crafted to echo the stages of a cyclone, Lessons in Forgetting is a heartwarming story of redemption, forgiveness and second chances.
Praise for Lessons In Forgetting
Review Anita Nair weaves her story with the consummate skill of a born story-teller with hard to forget nuggets. Never once does the interest of the reader falter. She completely reinvents story telling. Lessons In Forgetting is a story of real people in a real but far from perfect country, where female feticide still happens with impunity. It is also a story of forgiveness redemption and second chances. It is a story that inspires moves, motivates and forces you to think all this even as it holds you spell bound.
This is Nair’s fourth book and there is no doubt about one thing: she gets better with each one. … it’s all there in the book: cyclones and catastrophes, man-made and wrought by nature; love, dependency and betrayal, female foeticide, Page Three parties. It’s a story told at an unhurried pace by an accomplished writer.
Lessons in Forgetting makes for a memorable read…. Nair writes with exacting precision about the disintegration of marriages among the middle-class…. With carefully orchestrated shifts in points of view, Nair describes how every woman has had to make painful choices in order to assert and retain their sense of self
Over her novels, Anita Nair’s finely delineated characters have got etched into our memories, especially the women. Meera and JAK, both caught up by unexpected disaster, add to that canon.
With her latest novel Lessons in Forgetting, Nair has done just the opposite of writing something “that doesn’t demand intellectual or emotional engagement from the reader”. An intense look at marriage, parenthood, destiny and relationships, the book also packs in themes such as the cyclical nature of events in our lives and redeeming our mistakes —all this along with strong portraits of finely etched and far-from-perfect but identifiable characters.
There is a place, somewhere between the complexity of highbrow literature and mindless prattle of chick-lit, where judicious stories of ordinary people can be told. Anita Nair slid into that place nine years ago when she published her breakout novel Ladies Coupe….Nair gives us a look into the lives that we now lead in cities. She makes a statement about the fragility of the modern Indian marriage and the overwhelming challenges of raising our children in a milieu we no longer have a handle on. When Meera ponders about where exactly she went wrong as a wife, it reflects our incomprehension of the role we are expected to play as a partner. As Jak retraces his daughter’s path, we think along with him about how much freedom we should allow our children.
The realistic portrayal of Nair’s character is inducement enough for the reader to keep turning the pages….—and is a perfect fit for those in-between times when Salman Rushdie seems too much and Sophie Kinsella too little.
Drawing parallels between life and the unpredictability of cyclones, shifting between multiple points of view and likening Meera’s story to that of the mythological Hera’s would seem to serve up an over-rich mix. But Nair pulls it off, maintaining a taut pace as Jak begins his quest, thankfully refraining from getting overly mawkish and eventually providing a longed-for redemptive ending without the triteness that could quite easily have accompanied it. Lessons in Forgetting provides an ultimately satisfying read…
A Times of India Sunday Life Pick of the week: Cyclone. This violent depression of Nature becomes a metaphor for the sweeping changes that strike our lives in Anita Nair’s new novel, “Lessons In Forgetting”…. her most intense book….an intimate exploration of duty, betrayal and the frail beauty of second chances…these are powerful emotional chords… – Times of India
Satirical, topical, reflective of new-age desi definitions, Lesson in Forgetting, Anita Nair’s latest novel, innovatively adapts to cyclones. Opting for a larger canvas this time, Nair picks her way through emotional upheavals and social asides while toning down sentimentality to just the right pitch.
As youth matures faster and ageing reverses with technological help and psycho-speak, mid-life crises are no longer explicable with a one-liner about ‘change’ or ‘that time of life’. To zero in on not just that difficult gray-area vintage but to contextualise, inlay with detail and tell multiple stories that weave into a central feeling that can resonate in readers’ hearts need that right mix of literary lineage and storytelling skills.From an author who speaks knowingly of better men and better women, here is a better book.
Anita Nair can handle it–a grim tale of a luminous, mercurial young girl shattered into a whimpering, cowering animal both by a stray log that comes crashing from the sea and the viciousness of men dealing in the illegal business of snuffing out female foetuses; a sorry story of a frothy corporate marriage that disintegrates like a delicate wine-glass knocked over by a careless bejewelled hand at a cocktail party; a touching chronicle of four generations of women in a family negotiating disparate yet entwined lives; a fragile vision of two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, until they shore up against the promise of possible redemption in each other–all of it, with the expert flair of a chef extraordinaire whipping up featherweight meringues to match the lightness and delicate sweetness of souls. Nair’s latest, Lessons in Forgetting, is like an experience in fine dining–it tantalises your palate and makes you want to chew slowly upon its offerings, and it makes you want to linger at the table just a little while longer……
Here, indeed, is a novel well worth remembering.
Articles & Interviews
DNA: Caught in cyclonic weather - By Shrabonti Bagchi
When she was done with her last novel, Mistress, about the world of kathakali artists in Kerala, author Anita Nair decided she would write “a light, easy book”. Researching Mistress involved a lot of arduous digging into an esoteric subject and it had taken a lot out of her; she wanted to try her hand at writing the sort of comfort novel we often turn to when we don’t want to be emotionally or intellectually taxed, something she succinctly calls “refined chick lit”.
She discussed it with her editor, and got down to it with relish.It was not to happen. “A few months into writing this novel, which never saw the light of day, I realised that if I were to put in three to four years of my life researching and writing a book, I wanted it to have a certain heft and weight,” says Nair a trifle ruefully. “I love reading books by, say, an Alexander McCall Smith or a Maeve Binchy, and I would love to write something like that — easy, relaxing and yet extremely well-written. But I came to the conclusion that it would be a waste of time; it wasn’t me,” she adds.
With her latest novel Lessons in Forgetting, Nair has done just the opposite of writing something “that doesn’t demand intellectual or emotional engagement from the reader”. An intense look at marriage, parenthood, destiny and relationships, the book also packs in themes such as the cyclical nature of events in our lives and redeeming our mistakes — all this along with strong portraits of finely etched and far-from-perfect but identifiable characters.
India Today: War on memory - By Brinda Bose
“I can handle him, she thinks. When in doubt, a stew. But when lightness lifts your soul, time to whip up a batch of meringues.”
Anita Nair can handle it–a grim tale of a luminous, mercurial young girl shattered into a whimpering, cowering animal both by a stray log that comes crashing from the sea and the viciousness of men dealing in the illegal business of snuffing out female foetuses; a sorry story of a frothy corporate marriage that disintegrates like a delicate wine-glass knocked over by a careless bejewelled hand at a cocktail party; a touching chronicle of four generations of women in a family negotiating disparate yet entwined lives; a fragile vision of two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, until they shore up against the promise of possible redemption in each other–all of it, with the expert flair of a chef extraordinaire whipping up featherweight meringues to match the lightness and delicate sweetness of souls. Nair’s latest, Lessons in Forgetting, is like an experience in fine dining–it tantalises your palate and makes you want to chew slowly upon its offerings, and it makes you want to linger at the table just a little while longer.
What is it that we are meant to learn to forget then, like obedient students in a classroom called life? Nair, in a profound exploration of human love and suffering, offers us a philosophy of forgetting as a survival trick: in Pink Floydian terms, she suggests that we must learn to distinguish blue skies from pain, to retrieve what might sustain us from the plethora of that which continually threatens to crush our spirits and break us, leaving us scattered like dried and twisted twigs amongst the sand-dunes after the sea has retreated. This is an image that is impaled upon our consciousness as a central motif in the novel, the searing, seething form of a vivacious and intrepid young NRI woman Smriti– who returns to India with her parents to connect with her roots and is destroyed when she begins to look too closely at the ills of her homeland– lying curled and writhing upon her bed in a monstrous battle with living and forgetting. Smriti, exemplifying the irony of her name, is endlessly locked in a combat with memory, making grotesque faces and emitting grunts and growls like a wild animal in pain as her father, the renowned Professor J.A. Krishnamurthy (a.k.a. “Cyclone Jak” for his eminent scientific research on stormy weather patterns) watches over her in despair and devotion and dedicates his days to searching for the elusive truth behind the “freak accident” at a seaside town which found his radiant, ebullient daughter ensnared and sucked into a vortex of torment for the rest of her living years.
And how does one forget life’s repeated lacerations, whether they are physically experienced and manifest as Smriti’s are, resulting in a body and mind equally mutilated and contorted, or simply endured, as Meera’s are? Meera’s story is the counterpoint to Jak’s in Nair’s simple interweaving of lives and longings in contemporary Bangalore, the poster-city of progress and promise in post-liberalisation India. Nair’s skills as a lucid spinner of everyday stories are vividly demonstrated in the way we are lured to an increasing immersion in her triumphs and tribulations, as she juggles those who crowd her glass menagerie in her own ancestral Lilac House: her grandmother Lily, her mother Saro, and her own family comprising of her business magnate husband Giri and almost-grown-up children Nayantara and Nikhil. Nayantara, a delightful if difficult daughter now away studying at an IIT, is both Meera’s bte noire and beloved, a daddy’s girl who has as much trouble coping with his sudden departure as her mother does. Lessons in Forgetting opens with Meera, an immaculately-middle-aged corporate spouse who is a bestselling cookbook writer in her own right but is prouder still of being her man’s appendage at endless cocktail parties, until abandoned at the end of one by her husband whose mid-life crisis spasms into a predictable pattern of deserting the familiar in search of greener (read younger) pastures.
Meera must take lessons in forgetting her distress at the humiliation of being discarded like a frayed and overused garment by the man she had unthinkingly invested her entire adult existence in. Jak must train himself to cope with the agony of a daughter lost to the vagaries of violence and fate, and to end his churning restless pursuit of the hidden truth behind what had actually happened to Smriti the day her body was found broken and crushed by the sea in a small southern coastal town. But what he unearths is a lesson that we must not forget.
The still point of this quietly seething and simmering novel is a national shame, the business of medical clinics tucked in secluded alleyways that conduct illegal sex-determination tests and aid and abet the horror of female foeticide. So it is that Smriti, who courageously, if unwisely, rushes to uncover the terrifying truths that are hiding behind the grimy curtains of the “hospitals” in which such social sores fester and rot and spread, is sentenced to a screaming agonised death-in-life that becomes the axis upon which all Nair’s lessons in remembering and forgetting turn. But amidst such convulsive grief does a frangible tenderness blossom between Jak and Meera, a frisson so fragile that we are loathe to disturb it even with hope. Here, indeed, is a novel well worth remembering.
Live Mint: Ordinary Lives - By Veena Venugopal
There is a place, somewhere between the complexity of highbrow literature and mindless prattle of chick-lit, where judicious stories of ordinary people can be told. Anita Nair slid into that place nine years ago when she published her breakout novel Ladies Coupe. Now, with Lessons in Forgetting, her fourth work of fiction, she is comfortably ensconced in her niche.
Meera, Nair’s protagonist in Lessons in Forgetting, is someone we all know—a neighbour perhaps, or an aunt. She is urban, educated and erudite. She is the mother of two teenagers and one of those women whose career is to be a corporate wife. Meera has no big ambitions for herself; she thinks all is well with her life. So when her husband leaves her, Meera is more surprised than sad. As things tend to happen in books, on the day her husband walks out of a party and before Meera realizes he has walked out of her life, she meets Jak.
Jak is someone we know too. An uncle or a friend’s cool father. He is an Indian-American, one of those who boarded the flight from Chennai as Krishanmoorthi and landed in Connecticut as Jak. He is an expert on cyclones, a divorcee and a father of two girls. His confusion is about cultures: He is cool enough to take on his daughter’s challenge and pierce his ear, but wears his mother’s diamond nose ring in his ear. His elder daughter came to India to study and became the victim of a mysterious attack that rendered her comatose. Just as Meera is forced to redraw the contours of her life, Jak is on a quest to find the real story behind his daughter’s attack.
As events spin around us, Nair gives us a look into the lives that we now lead in cities. She makes a statement about the fragility of the modern Indian marriage and the overwhelming challenges of raising our children in a milieu we no longer have a handle on. When Meera ponders about where exactly she went wrong as a wife, it reflects our incomprehension of the role we are expected to play as a partner. As Jak retraces his daughter’s path, we think along with him about how much freedom we should allow our children.
The realistic portrayal of Nair’s character is inducement enough for the reader to keep turning the pages. Nair flits about some peripheral issues and you are left guessing whether to read too much into them or too little. For example, Jak’s quest to learn about his daughter takes him to a small Tamil Nadu village where a large female infanticide racket thrives. It’s integral to the plot, yet Nair does not offer any sort of closure to it. And there are too many characters—Meera’s mother, grandmother, Jak’s aunt—each with their own backstory, whose sole purpose seems to be to distract you from the narrative.
But it is worth a read—and is a perfect fit for those in-between times when Salman Rushdie seems too much and Sophie Kinsella too little.
Publishers: Lessons In Forgetting
- HarperCollins – India
- Ugo Guanda Editore – Italy
- Duomo Ediciones S L – Spain
- A.W. Bruna Uitgevers B.V. – The Netherlands
- Editions Albin Michel – France
- Laguna – Serbia
- St. Martins Press, USA
- France Loisir, [book club] France
- DC Book, Kerala, India
- Mehta Publishing House, Maharashtra, India
Lessons In Forgetting – A film by Arowana Studios (In English)
Based on Anita Nair’s book Lessons in forgetting
J.A. Krishnamurthy (JAK), a renowned expert on cyclones, is settled in the US. One day he is told that his daughter, Smriti, has met with a near fatal accident. This brings him to India. Police and doctors investigating the case point fingers at a promiscuous Smriti. A determined JAK decides to trace his daughter’s path that led to her accident.
Thus starts JAK’s journey to know about his teenage daughter which leads to meeting three of her best friends, It is learnt that Smriti joins a small theatre group and in all her naiveté looks towards changing society and this is what her friends could never come to terms with. At one point JAK’s search for truth reaches a dead end.
It is then he meets Meera, a socialite, whose life is thrown totally off balance when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Left with the responsibility of sustaining her family, she takes up a job as JAK’s research assistant. Meera’s life gets intertwined with that of JAK’s as a series of coincidences lead them finally to that small coastal town, where it all began. Here JAK realizes that it was not just another teenage relationship but a much larger issue, a social malaise that touched Smriti in such a way that she chose to fight it , the hard way. In that small town, when Smriti uncovers a scam that encourages female foeticide, the local mafia goes after her. As events behind Smriti’s accident unfold, the final revelation makes JAK confront truth in its entire enormity. JAK must show the courage to forget the past…and follow new beginnings.
Lessons in forgetting (film) is an Arowana Studio production, directed by Unni Vijayan, produced by Prince Thampi and music by Ganesh Kumaresh. The cast includes Adil Hussian, Roshini Achreja, Mayatideman, Raaghav Chanana and others.
AROWANA Studios (Production House)
Arowana Studios, the brain child of Prince Thampi, was set up with a vision to be an entertainment institution which produces films not out of market compulsions, but to make good & meaningful films for a niche, discerning audience. Arowana Studios took its first step in 3D animation and is presently making short animation films. ‘Lessons in forgetting’ is the first feature film. Shot in 35 mm, it reflects the philosophy of the production house–to tell a story, straight, with conviction. Arowana Studios currently is working on a couple of films which are in various stages of pre production, in English and Malayalam.