First of all, it’s the title itself that promises to spell out the wide range and intensity of its characters. It goes on to succeed brilliantly in creating an aching awareness of what life is all about. There is the depiction of intense poverty from which emerges a determined creativity of its lead character, Ravi.
There is love and compulsions of a beautiful, hard-working mother that hunger and deprivation cannot dilute but who succumbs eventually to the temptation of an easier love. She runs away with another man to be lost in the nowhere land of anonymity. There is the pitiful condition of the father whose fading health robs him ultimately of a caring but helpless son. And that son achieves the heights of popularity as a music composer in the world of films.
In Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers, you have a teller of a tale who characterises the ebb and flow of the stories of these people with such realism that he almost defies you to participate in the pain of the human condition as well as its rich solace. What more can define a good writer!
But there is more. The author, Bhaichand Patel, was a barrister by profession, practising in what was then Bombay in his younger days, which obviously brought him in contact with the highs and lows of society. He went on to traverse the world and, as a representative of the United Nations, finally settled down in Delhi. But it is his background in Mumbai from which he has drawn this first novel which sears with its depiction of a pain that runs through the city’s social and personal relationships.
There are those from the dirt layered, smelling chawls and where Bombay’s lowest of the low social classes reside to the perfumed elegance and suave face of new and old social aristocracy in their mansions. What is remarkable about this novel is that it touches on the highs and lows of society — the complacency of the privileged, the agony of the deprived — with such lack of pretension that it leaves you with an ache of recognition.
Having first written about Chasing the Good Life, then Happy Hours followed by Bollywood’s Top Twenty, the Superstars of Indian Cinema, Bhaichand Patel’s depiction of pain and reality in his first novel comes with a surprisingly powerful intensity. Maybe it is his familiarity and love for cinema and its varied contexts that did it.
Still, there is that low-key tension which runs through the entire narrative that makes for high drama. Patel’s characters range from the poor, diseased and the deprived to the glamorous and the rich. It is this with which the author paints both the inner and outer landscapes of the content right till the end.
Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers is a novel which literally demands a cinematic interpretation. If there is a book which is ripe material for film, this is it.