The book “The Slow Disappearing” by Poonam A. Chawla is a literary fiction that answers age-old questions with fresh insight and empathy.
In the novel, a mother in the throes of dementia fears the loss of words over the loss of life. The protagonist is trapped in her new role as the reluctant caregiver. There is a rebel sister who unearths a secret and is forced to close the distance on her past, and a son, reeling from abandonment, scrambles for a foothold.
The novel takes readers on a singular journey recording the travels and travails of a family flung across three continents.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
She hasn’t replied to my letter. Little Ana-banana. She is so like our mother, absorbed in the daily grind, not raising her head once, to look at the changing landscape.
I’m told it takes a certain amount of courage, even nobility of mind, to perform those thankless, mundane tasks that guarantee nothing but repetition and greyness of the bones.
As it happens, my mother’s final act of courage was to end herself – the irony is not lost on me.
In a shambolic household such as ours, a husband never out, a daughter never in, it was all our mother could do to apportion her life into manageable chores. If there were pots to be cleaned, she cleaned them. If there were clothes to mend, she mended them. If there were noses to be wiped, she wiped them. She was a diligent little worker bee who had no use for existential questions. Then again, had she done so and asked herself the important questions, I mean, could she have bought herself a happy ending?
I guess, we will never know.
Personally, I have no such ambition. Find a benefactor and let someone else do the backbreaking work, I say. Courage. Nobility. Karma. Fate. Dress it up any way you like, what they all amount to is a failure of imagination.
My first benefactor was my math tutor. He was not a teacher by profession, but an electrical engineer. How I met him. A colleague invited him to a get together at the home of one of our close relatives. I found myself seated next to him after I walked over from my seat nearest the balcony to the dining table to ply my plate with fritters. When I returned, my chair was taken. I glared around, until I found his eyes on me. He patted the empty chair beside him.
We sat side by side, our knees almost touching in the close quarters. I was already bored by this quiet, although congenial-looking, stranger. Politely, he asked my name and my relationship with the host.
‘He is my uncle,’ I said abruptly. I wanted to get back to my younger cousins, not get stuck with some bespectacled engineer. He asked me what grade I was in.
‘Ninth,’ I muttered.
‘Do you like math?’ he wanted to know. I sighed. What an incredibly dull question. What a hopelessly dull man.
‘I do,’ I told him, ‘but I would like it more if I was good at it.’
‘Maybe you just need some practice,’ he said.
‘No. My math teacher hates me, and I hate her,’ I said, viciously kicking the leg of a stool, making the plates convulse. He tried to hide a smile.
‘Why do you hate her?’ he persisted. as if the reason really mattered to him. As if his fate rested on the answer.
‘She’s … condescending. She’s made up her mind I won’t improve, and she doesn’t even know me that well!’ Now I was irate both with the math teacher and by projection, with all adults, but mostly with this man, burrowing into my life like a bespectacled rabbit and talking about school on my day off! He was quiet for a few moments, letting my anger billow into the space between us.
Then he said, very softly, that he could teach me math. I looked at him as if he’d lost it.
“I could make it fun,” he iterated.
I shrugged and went to pour myself a fizzy drink. By the time I was seated again, I had a math tutor. For free.
His last name was Captain. At the time, I found that hilarious. Every image the name conjured, he contradicted. Later, I called him that in the throes of passion. It was the magic word, if you know what I mean. I neglected to mention, he also asked me my age at that first meeting. When I told him I was almost fifteen, his pupils widened a little. He removed his glasses and wiped them carefully with a pocket-handkerchief. I never did ask him why he was so keen on teaching me math. A girl always knows.
Excerpted with permission from The Slow Disappearing, P. A. Chawla, Locksley Hall Publishing. Read more about the book and buy it here.
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