“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – From the movie ‘The Dark Knight’
That to me was the essence of this book. We all want heroes; love to romanticize them. But rarely do we realize how much it takes out of a person, to be that hero for us. How it breaks him. Ruptures the very elements of his being, on a daily basis. How difficult it is for him to constantly keep up with our ever-growing expectations, and yet keep his life simple and normal. It’s tiresome. Confusing. And, may even be a lot less rewarding than we think it is.
We never know about any of these struggles, as long as our hero keeps succeeding. But the day he fails?… Well, that is where this story starts.
A hero, who has lost his way. A fan, who has lost her hero. A romance, which has lost its warmth. ATUW is a story about all these mislayings. And, about some discoveries too. It is a story of a man trying to find a balance between his principles and priorities, or at least what he has come to think of as his priorities. It is about a woman trying to find a middle path between idealistic love of her heart and basic logic of her mind. And of the readers trying to find out whom they stand with – the mysterious artist Musafir or the practical Riddhimaan?
At its heart, ATUW is a whirlwind and a complicated romance, but not without those quintessential ‘warming-one-to-the-cockles-of-one’s-heart’ moments. There are romantic nights under the stars, stolen glances, sudden overwhelmingly passionate moments. And also the pointless fights that start out of nowhere. To sum up, a very real romance. And certainly, far better than a lot that goes around these days, in the name of romantic novels.
Paulami has captured both the agony and the ecstasy of the lovers quite beautifully. Her characters are quite sharply defined, every goodness and every flaw clearly chalked out. I love the stories where the characters feel familiar and everyday, from the very first word. Tilottama, Riddhimaan, Krishnakoli, Shoumu Sen and even the minor characters like Mimi and Rajdeep feel just like that. Like I’ve known them a long time. And I guess, that in no small part comes from the fact that Paulami has etched their emotions so accurately, and so vividly. When Tilottama longs for Musafir, when Ridhhiman tries to catch a teeny-weeny glimpse of Tilottama through an open door, when Krishnakoli gets a whiff of that longing and pulls their legs for it, when Tilottama worries about her father, when Shoumu Sen reads Riddhimaan’s torments and counsels him; you feel every emotion and you too, move with the characters.
For someone like me, who is an outsider to Kolkata; the way the city has been used in the story, almost as a character in itself, was a real treat too. I felt pulled in; found myself standing and watching the story unfold from the various unique vantage points, of the nooks and crannies of Kolkata and Shatiniketan.
But the strongest part of this story, for me, unquestionably, is Musafir/Riddhimaan and his constant struggle to figure out which one of these two men, he truly is. When Musafir falters, surprisingly, I couldn’t blame him much. In a way I knew, I too, would have been torn the same way, if I were him. And yet, I constantly yearned for him to do better, be a better man, be the idol which many saw in him. And that’s when I realized how much I have internalized Tilottama’s beautifully etched character.
The narration is very engaging, and you can almost whiff the overpowering fragrance of screenplay in the story and it’s well panned out scenes. I did find a few editorial issues, where I could sense some text has been eliminated in the interest of brevity but the edges haven’t been smoothed that well. Also, the prologue I felt, could have been shorter.
But nothing that marred my overall of experience of reading this book.
All said and done, ATUW is just the kind of romance, one would love to cuddle up with, on these cold winter nights. And to boot, it will leave you with a wonderful aftertaste of fantastic storytelling and characters you’d like to mull over for days.
So what are you waiting for? Go, get a copy!