Dear Mother,
I dreamt of Eugenia, last night. I wonder about the things I dream of sometimes. The guilt of them, the shame of them, the paralysis where I am unable to save myself. But then, there is a tiny sense of self-preservation even in dreams which emerges, which forces me to endure the darkness and look to the world with hope. Father inserts himself everywhere – in my dreams, in my waking hours, as mirror, as oracle, as cautionary tale, as the genesis of me. All things stem from father – the confusion that lies at the heart of my life. I need to embrace the complexity of my inner self. I am not one thing or the other. I am many things in one. I’ll see you for dinner on Sunday.

The Horton Hall manor house rises like a rock, a binding of the woods, a flag, an understanding between man and nature that henceforth nature would always lose. In spring, a pale green light pours through its sash windows and in winter it greys with gale-force winds; the house itself becomes the seasons, a loamy life form of dank breath. The house is three hundred years old. How many lives has the house held over the centuries? It has two large halls at the front end, a skeletal stairway leading upstairs where across the hallway span six bedrooms. But five steps down, there is a whole backend: a kitchen, a pantry, and a servants’ hall; this part feels more worn, its timber beams having breathed deeper and longer, grieved an older grief of damp and famine and war, a grief which shadows the new. It is not a large house, smaller than a good-sized country estate. Like everything else in father’s life, it’s an allusion to greatness. This storied space demarcates the feudal power share of the lives it governs. Anju’s family have lived here for as long as she can remember, although it was Grandfather Frank Burton’s house, inherited by her mother, Jeanne Burton. Her father, Nivant Kale, says often that Frank’s OBE for service to the community was an abomination, a relic of the empire which should have been done away with a long time ago, but he is not so constricted by principle as to refuse the large inheritance Grandfather Frank left the family. Besides, he could never afford a house such as this on what the Horton Gazette used to pay him. Father lined the vaulted walls of the house with dead writers and poets Trotsky, Mulk Raj Anand, Romain Rolland, a joyless consortium of Marxists, and George Orwell before the Conservatives claimed Orwell as their own.

Anju arrives early for dinner. Through the window, she can see the chandelier lobbing light, and Father slumped on his favourite armchair. Even from this distance, she feels like she’s intruding on Father, whose involvement in her life has been performative, possibly under sufferance, carving up for her this space of emptiness. A weft of shadows in the hedgerow makes her feel like she is being watched. But really, it is the penumbra of the house that forms into presence. She sits on the garden bench, weighed down by a formless past. She has tried so often to inter this sense of being irrelevant, unloved, unrecognised by Father, but always it exhumes itself without warning. Who is responsible for her past? A creation not of her making but of her participation.

Eventually, she knocks on the door.

Mother answers.

“Is Freddo not with you?”

Anju shakes her head.

“He’s off on a faculty seminar at Farnham.”

“A faculty seminar during the Easter break?”

Anju pushes past Mother into the hallway. She’s mapped this house not by its layout but by the emotions the rooms carry within them. The living room where father sits is a place of disguise where bald-faced lies surface and survive because there are distractions and doors through which they can escape. The bedrooms are tabernacles of revelation confronting her with unwanted truths. But the kitchen with its old beams and wood-burning stove has always been a sanctuary where lurks the possibility of comfort.

She makes her way to the living room.

“You all right?”

Father nods.

Anju sits down and looks about the living room. When she was young, the Horton History Society would hire the manor house at Christmas and hold tours, fetes, and enactments of people who’d belonged to the manor in the past. They told tales of bitter winters, and fires, and wood panelling being sold to pay off debts. The house swelled with its history as people flounced about in costume; Darjeeling tea, clotted cream scones, ginger-bread men and fruit cakes were served by kindly-faced women in the kitchen; and ghost stories regaled the village folks in the drawing room, while someone played on the piano, and children sat about small tables making Christmas decorations. Mother held reign then over the house, slicing chocolate Yule logs for the children and handing out presents, the joy writ large on her face.

The mirror image of those Christmas days was the once-yearly trip to the Independence Day parade held by the Horton India Cultural Society, where moustachioed men in magnificent turbans held court. Father squirmed uncomfortably amidst fellow Indians, sitting on deck chairs or queueing up at the food stalls to buy channa masala and paneer makhani. When the Indian national anthem came on, Father stood stiffly, willing it to end. That filthy parade is a caricature of India worse than anything they portray on BBC dramas, he’d yell when they returned home. It’s everything consumed by the great Indian heartland. The outlier, the periphery, the marginal, the individual, swallowed by that committee of bastards who want to erase everything that lies outside the cow belt, he’d rail, flinging his blazer onto a coatrack and slumping on the sofa with a whiskey soda. Father rejected India’s heartland project the imposition of its language, its religion, its love of capitalism, its need for a vast churning to produce a single collective consciousness. He’d renounced Gandhi as every good Indian Marxist was expected to do but he despised too the hydra-headed jingoism scarring India’s essential pluralism.

Whatever shifting ground Father stood on, it was still firmly rooted in his own personhood, his sense of self existed in one geographical location India from where he drew his strength. Anju exists without the memory of a self. Where had her existence begun? Perhaps she had emerged from that hairline crack of anger which Father bristled with every day, the glinting sharp-edged knife of unexplained bitterness that twisted within him, the chaffing failed expectations he carried like a hump. As a dedicated Marxist, it was Orwell’s betrayal Father mourned the most. Orwell’s damning of the communists meant a life abjured. Before Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell was a man who understood the need for revolution. To be true to one’s essential self takes courage; to obscure parts of oneself is the purgatory of cowards, Father says. But Father has never been in a war nor displayed the courage of his Marxist convictions; he has only ever lectured Anju about them.

Excerpted with permission from Notes on a Marriage, Selma Carvalho, Speaking Tiger Books.