Dark history
Reviewed by Ravia Gupta

Perfect Eight
By Reema Moudgil.
Pages 252. Rs 200.

WHEN the rain becomes just a beady fringe around the trees, the sun explodes in the sky, turning Missamari cantonment in Assam into a bright crayon drawing, and the children tumble out of homes to reclaim their front-yards, Reema sees her Ma looking at them, with a sad, half-finished smile. As if they have something that she has either lost or misplaced somewhere. She never sees her smile too much. Life for her is a puzzle halved into life and death, and she has never been able to decide which piece she wants.

Reema learns from her Ma to "smell grief before it struck". Just a day before, when the school sky littered with balloons and silver stars, she announces to Ma, "It will all go waste. It will rain tomorrow." Monsoon is officially over, but it rains and even though Reema knows it beforehand, she can not bear to see the limp festoons or the gauzy triangles and furling red, paper snakes dying prematurely in mud. She knows that they have to die, because everything dies, beautiful things and loved things. For her it is risky to love anything too much and it is too silly to take anything for granted. Even the officersí mess, with its equanimity of luxury, good manners and fearless happiness, canít lull her into contentment.

Reema is certain that Missamariís air, pulsing with soft, mellow miracles, is not for her or for her Ma. She often wishes to tell people around that nothing is permanent and that happiness is something which they will always leave behind and go somewhere else.

Perfect Eight, an autobiographical fiction written by journalist Reema Moudgil, has a dark and depressing, contemporary history and romance that find its way here along with separation. Itís a tale of travel, discovery, twists and turns. The writer begins her journey from Lahore during Partition. She witnesses her motherís life torn apart by hate and bears it like a burden.

The writer lives out her own destiny in the seclusion of a tea estate at Annaville that belonged to her aunt and her childhood love, Samir, who only understands passion.

Travelling from Lahore to Kanpur to an Assamese cantonment to Patiala to Ambrosa to Bangalore, through floods and fires and communal riots, Reemaís Ma repeated a lesson to her, which she had taught herself as a little girl: "It did not matter one way or the other, life never asked for oneís opinions. It did not recognise a womanís desperate love for a house with sun-lit, flower-filled balconies. It would mercilessly go in a direction it had preconceived for itself." She sits this time in a train with acceptance and the few belongings she had brought from Missamari, and remembers another departure from happiness, many years ago, but this time she is relieved, as she thinks she is not travelling with "strangers".

A sense of displacement and its accompanying baggage is what goes around throughout. Nursing the scars of Partition is what Perfect Eight, two halves running into each other, is all about, an emotional insight into a womanís life.