The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee – Marxism and tradition in 1960s India
Neel Mukherjee's very ambitious and very successful novel is set in Calcutta and the ricefields on the edge of the jungle in the west of West Bengal. It takes place in the second half of the 1960s and centres on the large and relatively wealthy Ghosh family, whose head, Prafullanath, owns various paper mills. The eldest grandson, Supratik, has left home and joined the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist), and is working secretly to mobilise the peasants against the landlords. Letters from him to an unnamed correspondent form one thread of narrative. The other is an intricate account of events and relationships on the various floors of the Ghosh house. There are tragedies and comedies, deaths and births, disasters and feasts. The story is marked by marriages, and the failure of Chhayha to marry because she is too dark-skinned. The cast is huge and the reader spends time, at one point or another, with most of them. It takes a while to get to know all the men, women and children, but the story is always gripping, and there are various time-bombs that suddenly change the way we see the book's whole world.