Human beings are inherently flawed, and somehow, reconciling ourselves with this simple fact is perhaps the greatest task a human ever faces. People like to hold themselves by certain ideals of perfection, and often that drives them, overrules them and takes them over. But perfection is a myth. This book is a haunting, beautiful and frankly, brutal testimony to this. Set in Bengal in the 1960s, it captures the multi-dimensional lives of all members of a join family. Society at large tends to identify individuals, and even families, or any other minuscule units by singular adjectives – rich, poor, leftist, capitalist, intelligent, stupid et al, but calling it reductionist is an understatement. We are a sum of our own contradictions, trying to merely get through life. But the sense of self-aggrandising we posses makes us believe that we serve a larger purpose. Navigating life through this dissonance is what the core of this book is.
Mukherjee has aptly titled the book by reflecting the constant human action of othering, whether it is out of hatred, rational (jealousy amongst women for leading the household) or irrational (we see a daughter-in-law being ostracised after supposedly bringing bad luck to the family), or love, again rational (for a servant who has been with a family for longer than some of the children of the family) or irrational (a young bourgeois heir turning to Naxalism). Truly, the Lives of Others shows what perhaps goes unsaid in our lives…hidden behind the drivel of self-centrism, lies the innate urge to function with a unit larger than the single person.
PS: Neel Mukherjee is the brother of Udyan Mukherjee, author of The Dark Circles. Perhaps nothing else reflects the beauty of the same seed giving birth to two tangential, yet similar trees than the books written by them. While you will sense a familiarness, their styles of writing are far apart, and magnificent in their own way.
Cross-Posted on The Standing Coin