‘What are we if not our memories?’

By Vishnu Makhijani

Everything in our lives warps and unravels with the passage of time, says P.A. (Poonam) Chawla, a fan of T.S. Eliot, which explains her nom de plume, of her new book, “The Slow Disappearing”, part memoir and three parts fiction that suggests fading relationships as well as a fading memory, the writing of which she describes as a “wonderfully cathartic experience”.

“The title suggests that everything warps and unravels with the passage of time. What are we if not our memories? We wrap our friends, our families, our achievements about us, only to find them slowly disappearing,” Chawla told IANS in an interview.

Born in Mumbai, after a whirlwind romance and marriage four decades ago, she moved to the US, where she lives in New Jersey with her husband of 33 years and two children.

Quite naturally, the book, published by Locksley Hall, has parallel themes. For example, the protagonist moves abroad, and her country, as well as her family, disappears.

“From Indian to resident alien can be a torturous transformation. The title also suggests fading relationships as well as a fading memory,” Chawla explained.

“The Slow Disappearing” has been a “wonderfully cathartic experience for me. It is a one-part memoir, three parts fiction. I wrote it after I quit work to be at home with my ageing mom-in-law. I was lonely. After the busyness of corporate life, to suddenly find myself at home rolling out rotis and dispensing care was exhausting, emotionally draining, and mentally crippling. At some point, I started writing my thoughts and the book appeared”, Chawla elaborated.

This is the third book from the author who always wanted to write: “I read the works of Tagore, Steinbeck, and later J.D. Salinger, starting at age eight. I was also certain (with the naivete of a child) that I could write like them too! Of course, I understand now, how much hard work goes into keeping it simple, straight from the heart.

Annika, the protagonist of “The Slow Disappearing”, lives in the US. From being a corporate climber, her world has shrunk to the size of a room, where she now has to take care of an aging mother-in-law. Annika receives a letter from a long-estranged sister (Malavika) with a very colorful past and time present and time past collide, dredging up a host of painful memories. Annika goes home, to immerse the ashes of her mother-in-law, and is forced to meet up with her sister and her nephew Samir. They have a tearful reconciliation and the future looks hopeful at last.

Considerable research went into the book.

“I wanted to write from observations, gathered over decades of life experience – about caregiving, my immigrant life, my relationships. I am  of serious bent by nature.

“The books I read were not so much for research as for my personal development. I got an additional degree in family cultural studies, which gave me fresh insights into the lives of those around me. Also, I have always been interested in the Indian diaspora and mingle with them at every opportunity, to learn about their immigrant experiences. I believe every bit of knowledge one accumulates along the journey finds its way somewhere in one’s work,” Chawla said.

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy shethepeople.tv)

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