Memories of Rain: A Novel, by Sunetra Gupta.
Memories of Rain: A Novel, by Sunetra Gupta. Grove Press (1994)
Memories of Rain is a dense, internal novel about the ending of the marriage between Moni, a young woman from Calcutta, and, Anthony, the Englishman who married her and took her to London ten years before. Anthony had entered Moni’s life at the height of a rain storm and flood when her brother had brought him into their home. “Memories of rain” is about the passion which they had once shared.
The novel traces the thoughts and emotions of Moni and Anthony through three days leading up to the sixth birthday of their daughter. Moni has decided to return to India, taking their daughter with her, on the day of the girl’s birthday party, and intends their departure to be a cruel surprise for Anthony. Flashbacks highlight the changes in the couple’s relationship and Anthony’s on-going affair with Ana. He claims he feels a gentle tenderness toward Moni while pursing his passion for Ana and bringing her into almost constant contact with his wife.
The book alternates the point of view of Moni and Anthony through the emotionally charged days, leading up to their daughter’s birthday and Moni’s planned departure. Gupta’s portrayal of Moni gives us insight into her reluctance to leave and her inability to speak directly to Anthony about her pain. She feels the pull of her own culture as well as the emotional dependence which her husband has cultivated in her.
Anthony is the Colonizer, seeing in Moni what is lacking in himself. He has loved his image of her, not the real woman. According to Gupta, he thinks about how
…he had come to this land, like his forefathers had done, with the conviction that all he wanted would be his, he had come not with greed, only a desire for knowledge, for experience…(40)
Later he returns to this theme,
…he had penetrated the very spirit of the city, the very essence of the culture had been revealed to him in the few dense hours he had gazed upon the rain-swollen curve of her lips, this was what he had come to discover, to feel, the inebriation of tropical rain upon his skin, the sensual exchange of poetry on a thunderous evening, oh, if he could only draw his lips through the velvet valley of her hair, his experience of the tropics would be complete…(124)
Such an attitude on his part was hardly the basis for a sustainable marriage, but he never lost his ability to see Moni in terms of his own needs rather than as a person with needs of her own.
And yet, Anthony and Moni’s story is not simply that of the immigrant bride who has been drawn into the obit of her husband. Their relationship is all too common in marriages without the geographical specifics of this story. Maybe the metaphor of colonizer and colonized is an apt one for the problems facing a wide range of couples.
Gupta compels the reader through long sentences and paragraphs that cover pages. She probes into her characters, playing with their contradictions. The pace is tense, and in spite of little actual action, I felt rushed. This is not my favorite style of writing, and at times I got frustrated with the sheer weight of the story. The author demanded more of me as a reader than I wanted to give. I did not want to get sucked into the intense writing about yet another failed relationship, especially when I could see no possibility of a decent resolution of the issues raised. But Gupta surprised me, pulling me back into the story with her sharp descriptive phrases and ending the book on a note of hope.
Throughout the book, Moni sings the words of poetry by Tagore, for her the Poet. She sings them in Bengali, a language Anthony never understands, and the words are an apt, ambivalent comment on their story. I completed this book ready to search out and read more of Tagore’s poetry.
I recommend Memories of Rain for those who are more comfortable than I am with this style of writing. I liked the book more in retrospect than I did as I read it.