Free Press Journal

The Last Email by Mridula Garg: Review


Name of the book: The Last Email

Name of the author: Mridula Garg

Name of the publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd

Price: Rs 299

Pages: 226

 ‘To the shadow world of memories so agonizingly real’

It was a premonition of what essentially awaited the reader. But at first look, it only made the reader want to look ahead into a book that is entirely a compilation of e-mails sent and received.

It’s a revival of sorts – of memories that were either sent to the backburner or were silently relived by the members involved in making those memories; of an emotion so strong that nothing could change it in forty years; of humour and irony that were waiting to be revealed to the world.

A bright cover with illustration by Kavita Singh Kale renders an almost dreamlike dimension to the book. And yet, it looks agonizingly real for an “end” or “last” can but be borrowed from the dictionary of mere mortals who call it a day even though somewhere, somehow they know that certain things and certain people can never make a real “exit” from one’s life. And such is the title – The Last Email.

“I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience,” said Annie Proulx, an American novelist. Recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2013 for Miljul Mann and the Vyas Samman in 2004 for Kathgulab, Mridula Garg has left spaces in the book for readers to fill in. There’s Maya, a lady who will shortly be turning 70 and after ending a passionate affair in New Delhi of the late 1970s with Kevin Wilson who writes for the freedom of the Scottish Independence Party, they happen to reestablish contact about 30 years later. There is politics, love, grief and there is forgiveness. Interesting is the fact that Maya is a writer who has written a book called Chittacobra that created quite a furore when it was published. She was accused of obscenity. Incidentally, Chittacobra is a book by Garg published in 1979 which boasts of a similar outrage as ‘people are used to men treating women as physical objects but not vice versa. It was unsettling to the male ego.’

Is it Garg’s story? The curious reader gets an answer to the question in the book itself in Maya’s words: “My love, is there such a thing as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I don’t think so. Do we ever face the truth without colouring it with a bit of fantasy of our own making? Be that as may (whoever says that!) tell me what you wish to tell me and that will be enough.”

This book is probably Maya’s gift to Kevin – ‘Woman of Seventy’. The wry humour and honesty in the book are things to watch out for. The woman of seventy has set herself free from the shackles of a society that is up in arms and ready to sow the grain of controversy where there is requirement of none. She gives two hoots to fiction merging with fact; or rather she considers that all novels are in some way autobiographical.

Some parts in the book can get a bit repetitive. The reader might also face a dry spell at times. This reader did take breaks to read it as it can get emotionally draining during some sections but in the very next moment it is liberating.

In Garg’s words, during an interview to Scroll, ‘fictionalizing The Last Email was better than turning it into a memoir as with fiction, one does not have to get bogged down by facts.’

A part of the book is Recantation, a short story that Maya sends Kevin in one of her mails. Though it felt too abrupt for a story to end, there possibly couldn’t have been a better end for it. Similarly, the book does end with ‘Three Wise Women’. An abrupt end, you say? Read it to experience the beauty of the memory cherished between two individuals sitting at two different corners of the world. They are leading two lives with people to call their own and yet, there is a thread that binds them together – a piece of a shared past that changes everything and yet changes nothing at all.