Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.5 MB
A spellbinding work of literature, Latitudes of Longing follows the interconnected lives of characters searching for true intimacy. The novel sweeps across India, from an island, to a valley, a city, and a snow desert, to tell a love story of epic proportions. We follow a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who speaks to them; a geologist working to end futile wars over a glacier; octogenarian lovers; a mother struggling to free her revolutionary son; a yeti who seeks human companionship; a turtle who transforms first into a boat and then a woman; and the ghost of an evaporated ocean as restless as the continents. Binding them all together is a vision of life as vast as the universe itself.
Girija Prasad Varma, India’s first Commonwealth scholar, came back home after five years with a doctorate thesis that he concluded with two native words: Jai Hind. “Victory to the Indian nation” is how he translated the words for his supervisor. At the behest of the young prime minister of India, he was tasked with setting up the National Forestry Service in the first year of independence, 1948.
Most evening conversations among the tea-drinkers in Allahabad involved far-fetched theories linking them to the illustrious bachelor. But why would he choose to be posted to the Andamans, the aunties wondered, a place known only for exiled freedom fighters and naked tribes? It was rumored that there wasn’t a single cow on the island and that people had to resort to drinking black tea.
One of the tea-drinkers, a gold medalist in mathematics and Sanskrit, Chanda Devi, was relieved. Her medals clutched her like a chastity belt. Only a man more qualified would dare marry an intelligent woman. If she could have had it her way, she would have married a tree. She disliked men and women equally, meat-eaters even more, beef-eaters the most. But in 1948, even misanthropes were married off, if only to increase their tribe.
The task of bringing them together was left to the starving, stooping baba who sat on the banks of the Sangam—the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati. The sandy banks were forever crowded with devotees wailing, singing, and praying loudly, fooling local frogs into believing that it was mating season the whole year round.
Girija Prasad’s ghunghat-wearing mother visited the baba and offered him bananas and a garland of sunshine marigolds. She touched his feet and her worries came tumbling out. Her son was exceptionally intelligent, exceptionally qualified, with an exceptionally bright future. He was exceptionally handsome too. He retained his mother’s features and borrowed only his father’s chin. A prying devotee asked, “Then what is the problem with your son, behenji?”
“I can’t find him a worthy wife!”
“But what is the problem?” the baba asked as well.
Girija Prasad’s mother was about to repeat herself. But when she saw the baba smile, she stopped. Holy men were in the habit of speaking in riddles and half-uttered sentences. He ate half a banana in silence, took the garland, and flung it in the air. It swirled several times and landed around the shoulders of a perplexed Chanda Devi, who had been lost in hymns. And that is how the marriage between the man who studied trees and the woman who spoke to them was fixed.
“But, baba”—it was Chanda Devi’s father’s turn to complain now—“my daughter doesn’t speak English; she is a strict vegetarian. And this man you’ve selected, he has done a doctorate in the English names of plants and…and…I hear that he has tasted beef!”