Mind over matter
Reviewed by
Vikrant Parmar

By Lata Gwalani. Frog Books. Pages 267. Rs 195

Be enigmatic, remain incognito' - goes a saying. Implies verbatim for Lata Gwalani's book Incognito, where she remains enigmatic till the last 40-odd pages and thus incognito. Post the initial few pages where the protagonist, Anjali, relates the story of her four friends — Shailee, Rachna, Anuradha, Shakti — and how they 'decide' to murder the respective men in their lives, Vikram, Rohit, Avnit and Kartik - to her doctor, the narrative becomes episodic.

There is a distinct, repetitive pattern: Fiercely independent women fall for the charm of forthcoming men, live their dreams for a while, get jealous and finally ‘decide’ to kill their love interests. However, from the romantic gondolas of Venice to the mystical environs of Mussoorie to the historical bylanes of Puducherry to the tranquil waters of the Hoogly in Kolkata, the story takes one on a refreshing tour. Each chapter ends with… "That's when I decided to kill…" and the single line entraps one's attention.

It comes to light that Anjali's doctor, Dr Ganguly, "a shrink, hypnotist, black magician …a living encyclopedia,"all rolled into one, is actually her father, dealing with her ‘delusion disorders’ that have been the upshot of a motherless childhood and a lonely adulthood.

All of Anjali's four friends are a figment of her imagination; they belong to a world as she wanted it to be, as she would have loved it to be. The existential dilemma of Anjali, who is "hungry for love", has been dexterously delineated by Gwalani; so has the pathos of the situation.

After years of helplessness, Dr Ganguly finds the cure to her daughter's ailment in the form a hope, a month-old honey brown Labrador pup. Anjali becomes its keeper and of many of its ilk inside her father's ashram. The "meaning" in her life is restored. Dr Ganguly not only proves to Anjali that her "friends" were nothing but her own deepest reflections, which needed to be cured, but also that they had only "decided" to kill the men and not actually done it. Anjali's guilt is thus eradicated and so is her "age-time" gap. The author has been deeply inspired by Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, and has given him due credit. After perusing Gwalani's novel, one cannot but agree with John Milton in Paradise Lost… "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…"