Atale of a sleepy town with a tunnel that has its own history, sea with its beach beckoning you to come closer to listen as it whispers its own story and a lake whose depth of water sends its own invitation. Located in one such town on the Malabar coast, The Blind Lady’s Descendants is a story of life lived by Amar, the main protagonist.
It is from his eyes that we see unfolding of relationships between siblings, parental dynamics and a close friendship with ones best friend. While growing up he becomes aware of the existence of Javi, who is marked by his absence. There are books with his names, and all that remains of him are the stories that Amar’s mother shares with him off and on. She finds this disturbing at times as though the very act of speaking of him has been banned within the walls of the house. However, Asma cannot but help regaling the tales about Javi. Amar slowly finds evidence of things that links him closely to Javi, especially the uncanny way he looks like Javi, squints like him, his many beliefs, actions and behaviour being similar to Javi as remarked by those who knew him.
Amar writes his autobiography introducing people in his life as different characters of his story—Sophiya is introduced and the time spent with her is recounted with fondness and the effect on the family on her death by drowning; Akmal and his evolving belief and what its outcome is. He also sheds light on the turbulent relationship with his elder sister, Jasira, her marriage and eventual breakdown of her relationship with the family, Sandip, his friend, with his relationship with the Canadian tourist whom he marries. There are also his Mother, Grandmother, Uncle Kasim and Aunt Suhuda.
Amar is the youngest son of Hamza and Asma who share a distant relationship, sensitivly depicted by Amar through his understanding of the relationship between them. The way the story is narrated it appears as if Amar is developing the characters them and not the author.
The novel evolves through five books, each covering a major aspect of Amar’s life. Dynamics among siblings is established in the first book: grouping of Jasira and Akmal as a unit and Amar and Sophiya as a unit. Each is different from the other and plays a critical role in the development of Amar’s story. There is reflection of the underlying feeling that dominates an adolescent mind that nothing can go wrong with him and so he continues taking risks. Each book a landmark of his life and the last book being the beginning—unexpected yet expected.
Another aspect that Anees touches subtly throughout is the sexual aspect of growing up of an adolescent through the fantasies of Amar. Humour is as much part of the story.
There are frequent references to death in Amar’s story. Each one that is experienced by Amar in the story is violent—Sophiya’s unexpected death ruptures the thread for the readers for the first time and then it keeps becoming threadbare. Javi enters the plot and there is a mystery shrouded with respect to the way he died and the reason why.
There is strong visualization for his readers when the author describes the railway track, tunnel, beach and the cliff. The Malabar Coast comes alive to the reader. As the story moves ahead, the blind grandmother comes to stay with the family. And the reader learns the reason for the title. The political context and the role of Amar allow the readers to understand the characters and the times they were living in. I believe that every author places a bit of autobiography in what he or she writes and how much of The Blind Lady’s Descendants is autobiographical is the question I would ask if I found myself face to face with him.
Syeda Naghma Abidi is a consultant with PRAVAH and a Ph.D candidate at Ambedkar University, Delhi