Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Lives: Book Review

I have just finished reading Two Lives by Vikram Seth. For those who are not familiar with the book, let me just say that it is a biography. Well, two biographies in one large thick book. But, as compared to other biographies, which you may have read, this one is markedly different in one very important aspect. We have never heard of the names Dr S. B. Seth and Henny. Have we?
We go through their life, their ordinary life, torn, twisted and tumbled and then bundled together, due to extraordinary and tragic events which occurred during their life span.

Shanti Bihari Seth - Indian,Hindu, short height, brown skin
Henny - German, Jew, tall, fair

How these two very ordinary men meet, become friends and in the due course of time, life partners and how do they cope with that shame of humanity called the second world war is the story of this stupendous book. One thing which reflects enormously from the book is honesty. A genuine desire to tell the story as it was. To deliver it to the readers with utmost sincerity.

Without describing any thing about the events that took place and affected Shanti and Henny, among millions of others, I would say that no matter how many times you have seen those Second World war movies, the book's accounts of the horror is very realistic and brutal. But what stands apart here is the account of an absolute nobody in the scheme of things who acts, thinks and survives through all.

This is an extraordinary memoir. Colossal in impact and Olympian in nature.After all, its not everybody day that one writes a biography of their great uncle.

Though my grand father lived for for all of my 25 years and passed away only recently, I never knew him well enough. I have no intimate memories of him except meeting him occasionally in festivals and marriage ceremonies. I do not remember the last time I saw him. His memory had failed him before his body finally fell. He could not recognize his sons except the eldest one(My father is the youngest). After reading this, I wish I should have known him better.

He was very old (whether he hit a century, is debatable), had lost his memory, had lost most other senses, had given up food. He was in pain for sure. So, it was good for him that he was finally relieved. Quite a lifetime for him. He saw(not participated) Two World Wars ,Jalianwala Bagh, heroics of Gandhi and Bhagat singh, 15th Aug 1947, birth of Pakistan, Indo-Pakistan Wars, 14 Prime ministers, 1983 world cup,8 children, 27 grand children and I dont- know- how- many grand grand children. Who can ask for more?

Despite such a long fulfilling life, I did not know him.Like most things while fighting fate, I was late, yet again.

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