Book review

Anuradha Roy’s ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’ is that rare being: a literary page-turner

Roy’s third novel uses the lost-and-found rhythm, the same dry-throat-biting-nails routine that marks midnight thrillers on TV.

Lost-and-found could be many things – the name of a child’s game, a stock register in a police station listing things missing and then located, a poetic stand-in for an obsessive superstition, an instinct that turns people into spyware. In Anuradha Roy’s third novel, Sleeping on Jupiter, lost-and-found could be the name of both its ethic and aesthetic.

A young girl arrives in a seaside town in India to look for a few people from her past. Jharmuli is also a pilgrimage site, and so its temples and sea beaches are filled with tourists and their guides, pilgrims and their protocols, photographers and their mood swings. It is also the place where the young girl, Nomi, who now lives in Norway, was sexually exploited along with many others in an ashram run by a godman. Playing hopscotch with narrative energy and moving with pointed fingers like one does in a whodunit, Sleeping on Jupiter is that nearly utopian beast – a literary page-turner.

The mysteries

There is something oddly pleasing and anxiety-inducing about the lost-and-found rhythm, the same dry-throat-biting-nails routine that marks midnight thriller watching on television. Lost-and-found is the closest echo of birth and death, and perhaps because of this connection with the primordial, its subterranean presence in a narrative makes us hold our spines erect as we move through the novel, propelled by the greed for more knowledge: Who is Nomi? Why is she in Jarmuli? Does she find the poetic justice that she is looking for here? Or even Piku, her childhood companion in the ashram? What connection does the tea seller Johnny Tepo have to her past life? And if you are also looking to learn from the author’s superb control of structure, there are things you want to put your nose into – why, oh, why did she have to bring in three aged women into this narrative?

If you let it live inside your gut for too long, revenge becomes the lost-and-I-must-find rocking horse in your life. This is how Nomi’s life story would play out in the hands of an ordinary writer, but Anuradha Roy, whose first novel gave us a rough idea of the territory this talent could cover, takes a newspaper headline and turns it into theatre, of the best kind there is.

Why do I call it a newspaper headline? Here is Roy in her “Acknowledgments”: “There are countless horrific cases of child abuse and sexual violence in India. I have drawn on the legal and investigative history of many such incidents ...”  Violence being the LSD of our times, “human interest” stories on the subject play out on evening television every day – on high-pitched news capsules, on programmes like Crime Patrol where justice by Indian law arrives as the moral at the end of every episode. But Roy will have none of this. Her Nomi must return to Jharmuli because she is a detective of her own past.

Losing… and finding

The novel begins with the death of Nomi’s biological family and her consequent transportation to the Guru’s ashram. That is the first “lost” trope, so to say. And then it continues, Roy scattering losses in the story of her “first” life like Hansel and Gretel – this is to be the reward, both Nomi’s and the reader’s, “finding” these “losts”. Her biological mother, her brother, her childhood companion Piku, even her childhood – all marked with the “LOST” rubberstamp. And that is not all. When Nomi arrives in India from Norway, to collect what has been lost as it were, she gets lost herself – the train abandons her on a platform after she gets down to buy some food for a poor man.

“Loser” is now a psycho-capitalist term, used for people who have not been able to bait worldly success. But it could also be used for those who lose people and things. In that particular sense, every single character in Roy’s novel has lost something: Nomi, her parents and childhood; Suraj, the photographer accompanying her on this filming assignment to Jharmuli, has only recently lost his wife to his best friend; Badal, the guide, loses his scooter, a lover, and almost his sanity; Johnny Tepo, the chaiwala on the beach, singing songs from a previous life, has happily lost his life as Jugnu in the ashram; of the three women travelling from Calcutta on a holiday away from their family, one lost her husband to a secretary once, another a Konkani lover, and the third, a victim of dementia, her memory.

“Don’t you feel like disappearing from your life sometimes?” Nomi asks Suraj, the photographer and her travelling companion on this trip, and because everything – or at least something – must return in the scheme of things, these words come back to him towards the end of the novel. Everyone is losing something or the other: Gouri, the aged woman who has already lost some of her memory to dementia, loses her earrings only to find it later, this before she herself gets lost and found and lost and found again and again; Badal, the guide, loses his scooter only to find it later; a character builds a boat for his dead father every year, writes a note, and pushes it into the sea; one aged woman holds her friend’s hand in the crowd and tells her, “Don’t rush off into the crowd, I’ll lose you”; Johnny Tepo, now a tea seller on the beach, says, “I never sang before, not until I left everything and came here”; “I was a parcel being sent from one country to another,” young Nomi says about her move from Jharmuli to Norway, the metaphor of the parcel holding in it the breath of the lost-and-found morality; rituals are lost and replaced, but not the erotica of the Hindu temples which now seem lost forever; “Get lost,” says a young boy to his hopeful lover while his employer tells a customer “I have ... nothing to lose”.

One of the saddest losses is when Gouri, the woman suffering from dementia, loses a few lines from a poem. Anuradha Roy tells us later that those lines are from Jibanananda Das’s poem, Bonolata Sen. In the same list of acknowledgements, she mentions the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

There is something that binds these texts with Roy’s novel: Das’s famous poem is about a lover’s search for the lost Bonolata Sen; Rama loses his wife only to find her later; and everyone in the Mahabharata loses something, even if what the Kauravas lose is not what the Pandavas find. And that is why Anuradha Roy places her novel by the sea, that ultimate metaphor for lost and found: “It’s the sea. The sound of it. It brought back so many old things I had forgotten,” says one character; and this is Nomi: “At every sea, she would sit down like this and wait for it to tell her something, she didn’t know what, but she’d know it when it came”.

If you’ve ever lost something, you must read this novel.

If you’ve ever found something you lost, you must read this novel too.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Virat Kohli and Ola come together to improve Delhi's air quality

The onus of curbing air-pollution is on citizens as well

A recent study by The Lancet Journal revealed that outdoor pollution was responsible for 6% of the total disease burden in India in 2016. As a thick smog hangs low over Delhi, leaving its residents gasping for air, the pressure is on the government to implement SOS measures to curb the issue as well as introduce long-term measures to improve the air quality of the state. Other major cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata should also acknowledge the gravitas of the situation.

The urgency of the air-pollution crisis in the country’s capital is being reflected on social media as well. A recent tweet by Virat Kohli, Captain of the Indian Cricket Team, urged his fans to do their bit in helping the city fight pollution. Along with the tweet, Kohli shared a video in which he emphasized that curbing pollution is everyone’s responsibility. Apart from advocating collective effort, Virat Kohli’s tweet also urged people to use buses, metros and Ola share to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

In the spirit of sharing the responsibility, ride sharing app Ola responded with the following tweet.

To demonstrate its commitment to fight the problem of vehicular pollution and congestion, Ola is launching #ShareWednesdays : For every ​new user who switches to #OlaShare in Delhi, their ride will be free. The offer by Ola that encourages people to share resources serves as an example of mobility solutions that can reduce the damage done by vehicular pollution. This is the fourth leg of Ola’s year-long campaign, #FarakPadtaHai, to raise awareness for congestion and pollution issues and encourage the uptake of shared mobility.

In 2016, WHO disclosed 10 Indian cities that made it on the list of worlds’ most polluted. The situation necessitates us to draw from experiences and best practices around the world to keep a check on air-pollution. For instance, a system of congestion fees which drivers have to pay when entering central urban areas was introduced in Singapore, Oslo and London and has been effective in reducing vehicular-pollution. The concept of “high occupancy vehicle” or car-pool lane, implemented extensively across the US, functions on the principle of moving more people in fewer cars, thereby reducing congestion. The use of public transport to reduce air-pollution is another widely accepted solution resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Many communities across the world are embracing a culture of sustainable transportation by investing in bike lanes and maintenance of public transport. Even large corporations are doing their bit to reduce vehicular pollution. For instance, as a participant of the Voluntary Traffic Demand Management project in Beijing, Lenovo encourages its employees to adopt green commuting like biking, carpooling or even working from home. 18 companies in Sao Paulo executed a pilot program aimed at reducing congestion by helping people explore options such as staggering their hours, telecommuting or carpooling. After the pilot, drive-alone rates dropped from 45-51% to 27-35%.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that the growth of a country doesn’t compromise the natural environment that sustains it, however, a substantial amount of responsibility also lies on each citizen to lead an environment-friendly lifestyle. Simple lifestyle changes such as being cautious about usage of electricity, using public transport, or choosing locally sourced food can help reduce your carbon footprint, the collective impact of which is great for the environment.

Ola is committed to reducing the impact of vehicular pollution on the environment by enabling and encouraging shared rides and greener mobility. They have also created flat fare zones across Delhi-NCR on Ola Share to make more environment friendly shared rides also more pocket-friendly. To ensure a larger impact, the company also took up initiatives with City Traffic Police departments, colleges, corporate parks and metro rail stations.

Join the fight against air-pollution by using the hashtag #FarakPadtaHai and download Ola to share your next ride.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Ola and not by the Scroll editorial team.