Book House

Anupama Raju’s debut novel offers profound and memorable insights into love, pain, loss, regret, history, joy, hope, and possibility

Author Anupama Raju
  • The book “C: A Novel” by Anupama Raju tells the story of a nameless wanderer—a writer—as she moves between two cities and across centuries, coming to terms with her myriad emotions and strange experiences.

  • It is also, in a sense, a tale of two cities that are dear to the protagonist for ‘C’ is the name of the dark, sunless city she visits on a writing sabbatical, and also a reference to her bright native city that she has left behind.

  • Written in prose and poetry, this remarkable debut novel takes readers on multiple journeys with the protagonist through time and the winding streets of the cities she is in thrall to.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

There’s something urgent and feverish about gardens. You can lose and find yourself in the heat of the soil, in the asymmetry of the petals blown asunder by the ever-present wind, in the cheery madness of the blooms set off by the quiet wisdom of trees. I am lost already and I’m yet to discover if I will find myself in the gardens, something old C is famous for.

Years earlier, I was in a park back in my country. I was walking around, feeling the pulse of the trees. I noticed a woman who looked like a tree whisperer, placing her hands on a very old tree and speaking to it. After a few minutes, the woman was in tears. I didn’t feel compelled to find out more, but that sight stayed in my mind. Was it the tree that whispered to that woman, I often wondered.

The trees in C have a similar effect on me. In the dark, they form alien shapes. Yet they seem like the kind-looking monsters children would paint. They calm my nerves even as they bring me to tears.

I remember him. I remember his smile, his reticent love, his skin melting on mine, his eyes and his careless memory; his large hands overpowering my needy trembling fingers. I remember the small and great things. The days and nights spent in bliss and blistering passion; the friendship, respect, admiration, and love that has grown across time, over exhaustive conversations and exhausting debates; the puzzles, doubts, and insecurities that overpowered me despite it all. I think of it all. I remember how I thought of him all the time.

I once asked him, ‘Do you think of me all the time?’

He said, ‘Mine is better than yours.’

I still don’t know what he meant.

But I remember his words, like I remember everything about him.

Dane John Gardens

Like trees in the Dane John

that reach out to each other

never quite needing the other

let us hold hands without

wanting each other’s warmth

if winters would obstinately stay.

One of the first gardens I visit in C is near the city square. It’s a small one and not as lush as the more prominent gardens people throng in spring and summer. In the icy cold, this particular park looks mournful with very little green. In the dark, the green takes on different shades of black, reminding me of the leaves of mango trees back home. I read the inscription at the entrance and notice how badly it’s been vandalized. People have signed their names on it; scribbles and doodles abound. There are vandals everywhere, adding their dystopian art to monuments, buildings, walls, leaving their mark on places, leaving their names behind in cities where they are otherwise forgotten. History is their easiest target. You have the choice to deny, destroy, or simply ignore it. Funny.

I learn that this particular site was once a cemetery. There cannot be a more fitting location to think of things that have left us, things that have given birth to something else entirely. And right next to the park is a row of houses. Here’s more evidence of the circle of life. I see people moving about inside their homes, going about their routines, their silhouettes clearly visible in well-lit rooms. And just yards away, is the park where once lay buried bodies and bones. Now there are trees, mostly bare, with arms reaching for each other. From where I’m sitting, this is the sight that strikes me the most. They suddenly look like my trees; like I had planted them long ago; plants I had hoped would grow into who they are now, lining the corridor that runs through the garden. I can’t tell what trees they are, but they stand tall on either side, like stoic soldiers.

With the black sky above them, these tall soldiers look like pallbearers in a cortège. Whose coffin could they be carrying, I wonder, as I continue to sit on a bench, taking in the scene.

I will write about these trees. They will return to me. This unmanicured, largely unkempt park will be a metaphor for many things. There is wild grass as well, cushioning them all. And amidst all this reticent green-black life is a mound I climb. From there I get spectacular views of the city and its immortal cathedral, watchful as a detective.

It’s a memorable day. The sight stays with me. And I know I will be going back.

Like the trees in this strange garden, I’d like to hold his hand without wanting.

Excerpted with permission from C: A Novel, Anupama Raju, Aleph Book Company. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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