Dreamt Lives by Anirudh Deshpande, a historian of modern South Asian history, represents an attempt by the author to transcend his field of expertise which is based on sources, referencing and corroboration to a space quite the opposite of it: fiction. History and literature as disciplines, historically, have an uneasy relationship as under the postmodernist impulse the former was reduced and ridiculed to be fiction of the historian’s imagination i.e., making Deshpande’s transition simple and natural. Without getting caught up in this debate and reductionism this transition from history to fiction would have been difficult and Deshpande’s book is an example that it can be successfully done. In general, the context of the book is quite important, as his traits as an historian, his command over chronology and narrative permeate through in his writing style and the structure of the book.
The story is set in the 1990s and revolves around Ravi and a plethora of characters within his universe. The entry point into his world is the death of his father the patriarch, after a long illness. This event is used as a pivot to move back and forth in his memories located in Hyderabad, Assam, Arunachal, Delhi and Gurgaon. While the language is quite lucid and simple, the issues discussed by Deshpande are complex; from personal to collective memories, social processes, sexuality, love and gender. In a way it is a social commentary of the twentieth century as his characters embody social categories, stereotypes and their place within our society. The characters are relatable and his attention to details is quite remarkable.