My first brush with Paulami DuttaGupta was when I reviewed Ri – Homeland of Uncertainty. Since then I have been a fan of her writing style and am amazed at how she can squeeze in so much in so less words. So when M&J suggested A Thousand Unspoken Words for review, I was just drawn to it.
A Thousand Unspoken Words is a delight to read. You can’t help falling in love with Musafir and you can’t get enough of Tilottama. In Riddhiman aka Musafir and Tilottama, Paulami has captured the essence of the modern generation. This is the generation which is torn between its ideologies and the society. This is the generation which is confused but also wishes to leave the world a better place. This is also the generation torn between ideologies and realities.
I can talk about the story and be done with this review but the essence of A Thousand Unspoken Words is not just the story but the inner turmoil of Musafir and Tilottama’s to practice what she believes. On the plot level, one can say it’s a love story between a man who has been defeated by life and a woman who is in love with the shadow of a man she met years ago. Tilottama wants Riddhiman to become the man she fell in love with while Riddhiman wants Tilottama to love him for who he is now. The struggle to make peace with the past and the present causes a breakdown for both the protagonists.
I am not much familiar with what a Bengali household is like neither I know all the delicacies Paulami mentions in the novel, but I can say that she gives an exact account of what a modern Bengali household looks like. Paulami has given due space to all the characters and while reading none of the characters look like they have no purpose to the story. Kolkata becomes an integral part of the story, streaming in and out like a participant and a spectator.
Kolkata is called the ‘City of Joy’ and in A Thousand Unspoken Words Paulami reveals that there is immeasurable, “unspoken” pain hidden behind the happy face of the city of joy. Paulami’s Ri – Homeland of Uncertainty, also touched upon the pain of common men who get affected by decisions made by politicians who crumble down innocent lives for pursuit of selfish motives. Like Ri, A Thousand Unspoken Words too alights upon the subject of failed ideologies and how they affect generations and people alike.
I love the name Paulami has chosen for her protagonist Musafir. Musafir in english means traveller. In a way, the protagonist is a traveller, travelling through lanes of Kolkata, soaking in what he experiences and then putting it on paper. The problem arises when the traveller is suddenly forced to abandon his journey. It is when, disillusionment happens for Riddhiman. He spends years running away, hiding, trying to get back to the journey but he couldn’t.
Tilottama too spends her years running away, trying to hide her feelings. Her suppressed feelings of love and anger begin to take a toll on her. Riddhiman reminds her time and again that she is in love with Musafir and not him. Tilottama, however, stays in the hopes of resurrecting the man she had once loved.
Love in conflict with ideologies and disillusioned visions takes a toll and finally Riddhiman breaks down oscillating between his two identities. Tilottama helps him revive one more time and Musafir does what he does best – write. But after giving Tilottama what she had craved all these years – a Musafir who cares for the society, who is true to the woes of people through his writing, he vanishes. He leaves Tilottama a choice, to find love again or seek Riddhiman but he makes it clear that Musafir is dead for good.
The novel leaves you with a lot of emotions and when you close it all you wish is to retreat in recluse and think. It is not that love is absent between Tilottama and Musafir but instead of dwelling on the love, Paulami gives us a story which honestly narrates when failed ideologies begin to take over one’s life. Riddhiman is broken inside and Tilottama despite being the storage house of immense strength is unable to repair what’s been broken in Musafir. She marries Riddhiman in the hopes of finding Musafir again but realises it late that Musafir cannot be brought back from the abyss he has fallen into.
Coming from Paulami, it is expected to have all the women in the novel emerge as strong and independent be it Tilottama, Krishnakoli, Mimi or the women at Shantiniketan. While the women are strong men too are not limited to being caricatures. Riddhiman, Rajdeep and Shoumo Sen are all well developed.
I would call it a modern love story, a refreshing retreat from all the crap we get served these days in the name of a love story. It’s a story where love forms the part of an integral struggle and is not portrayed as some miracle, bonding agent for two people.