By Aslam Kakar
Life happens. Things happen. Some pleasant. And some horrible. Some intelligible, while other mysterious and beyond an ordinary mind’s comprehension. In The World We Found, like in The Space Between Us and her other humanistic works, Thrity Umrigar delves deep into that mystery of human nature and real life. She spills the beans about guilt, regret, loss, friendship, relationship, love, hope, death, and the real meaning of life in ways unknown to many in the real world.
Set between Bombay, India, and the United States, the novel is a rare articulation of the bitter-sweet life experiences and prolonged separation of four ‘revolutionary’ Bombayite college friends: Armaiti, Kavita, Nishta, and Laleh. With divergent journeys that life sets them on, the girls’ passionate youth activism in leftist politics for changing the system soon comes to a close. Amraiti settles in America where she is diagnosed with terminal brain tumor. The knowledge of her possible death begins to dawn on her the actual worthiness of life—a rare gift taken most often for granted.
The novel opens with the news of Amraiti’s fatal illness and her wish to see her friends, ‘the others’, one last time before her death. She has not met them for the past three decades after her arrival in America. Rest of the story is Kavita’s and Laleh’s search for Nishta, who they have not met in years, and planning a trip to America to see Amraiti. The odds that the three women face, especially in freeing Nishta from her husband Iqbal’s control, in preparation for the visit are real and terrible.
The novel is also an attempt at counteracting religious and cultural otherisation of people as subhuman. In one India and one society, Umrigar tells an extraordinary tale rich in perspectives of people from its multiple social layers and as many mindsets and life styles. Her craft of inclusivity—unsilencing the ‘other’—, fair -mindedness, and objectivity is enviable. And her value-free narration of events and characters and their narratives has a thoughtful guide in it for the real social and political worlds.
The book is also an example of the make-believe, may be occasionally, of people about shaping the course of history, which, in turn, determines their behavior and life’s journey. Particularly, how politics and religious hate and violence in India’s context, motivate unreason in people and set them on a completely unanticipated and uncharted way of life. In the novel, Umrigar shows how, for instance, Iqbal becomes a Muslim fundamentalist from a staunch supporter of the left after the 1993 Bombay Hindu-Muslim riots.
Finally, The World We Found also reveals certain parallels between the Western and Indian upper-middle and elite class cultures. Ferzin, Laleh’s daughter, enjoys the freedom of dating her boyfriend and talking about it to her mother. Similarly, Kavita’s homosexuality—first, her physical attraction to Amraiti which she never discloses, and then falling in love with a German woman Ingrid, which Laleh and her husband Adish acquiesce in—is another example of freedom in some social quarters, very close and limited though, in India. In this, Umrigar may hope to convey that no cultures are a monolith and that diversity, which lies at their core, transcends the myth of a monolithic worldview.