Missing is the second book by Sumana Roy. Last year I had read her ‘How I became a tree’ and simply loved it. The book was mentioned in the best books of 2017. It has such a zen-like feel to it. You cannot but fall in love with the way trees were brought alive by the author. So, it was natural that I wanted to read her next book. This one is a fiction though based in Siliguri, where the author lives. I was further intrigued, as small-town India stories hardly make it to the mainstream books. The blurb on the cover cleverly related the story of Ramayana and asked an interesting question – what happens when a woman goes missing. However, as they say, too much expectation always makes the actual experience fall flat. And that is exactly what happened with Missing by Sumana Roy.
The story revolves around a woman who has gone missing from Siliguri. She has gone to help the girl who was publicly molested in Guwahati in 2012. But she loses contact with her family after a few days. The husband is blind and dependent on servants and has to deal with a carpenter engaged to make a bed. The son is in some European country doing research on a road that connects Siliguri and Darjeeling.
The story is spread across 7 days and what goes on in the lives of the husband and the son, but primarily the husband. It is full of monologues that go into their heads. The husband who is ironically named Nayan hires a young girl to read the newspaper for him. Hoping to find the news about his wife in between these pages. He does not want to go to the police as he is not sure if his wife would approve of that. The absence makes him want his wife back – not really as a wife. But as someone who is so much a part of his life that he can not imagine his life without her. When he has to depend on others he realizes how his wife censored or may be filtered stuff for him including the news snippets that she read for him.
There is an overdose of Bengali pride without really giving you an insight into anything peculiar about Bengalis. Siliguri sits at the intersection of Nepal, Bhutan, Bihar, North East India and Bangladesh – having a migrant population from all these places. The conflicts or not so great opinions of each other is expected. The author tries to bring that out but an only one-sided view of the Bengalis. I think the relationship between the nationally & culturally diverse but geographically not really diverse would be interesting to explore for an author.
The story moves extremely slowly and is too monotonous to read. The newspaper clippings form a large part of the narration of 7 days. The news is repeating itself almost every day and reading the whole news clips, again and again, is boring. I guess the author may be making a point with her repetition, but as a reader who has seen those reports when it happened a few years back, it is just boring. I think almost every reader of this book is going to skip those pieces.
Most characters are boring except the carpenter who with his loud mouth brings some smile or disgust here and there. They exchange a few words with each other, mostly they speak in their heads. The son’s track is so fragmented, I am still wondering what did Sumana have in her mind. He is lost for 3 days – in my head, his travel calculation went wrong. Similarly, the young girl’s introduction started with the fact that she does not wear undergarments – why would you mention something like that and not touch that again in the story.
Buy Missing by Sumana Roy at Amazon
You know the main protagonist of the story – the Missing woman only through the fragments that you hear about her primarily from her husband and a bit from her son. I would have loved to see her being constructed from the memory of many people in her lives, including the man who combed her hair in a small glimpse of his. There are some brilliant analogies like at a place where she compares migrants to seeds of the chili. You can remove the chilies from your food but the seeds creep in.
Overall, it is boring to read. It lacks the intimacy, authenticity, and tenderness that I felt in Sumana’s first book. It seems she has tried to convert a real-life incident into fiction and that led to a lot of assumption about what the reader may know and not know. The distance that you need to write a story objectively was missing. You may still like this book if you are a Bengali or if you are from Siliguri.
Not sure if I can recommend this book. Take your call.