Today, I’m gonna talk about a book, The Hidden Letters, written by Purba Chakraborty. It’s the second book of the author. I shared my opinion on Purba’s first book in my post, Walking in the Streets of Love and Destiny.
The Hidden Letters is not a non-fiction, but a story book. Purba is fiction writer. She writes poems and stories.
What is a Story
What a story is all about? What is the need of stories in life?
Sarah Kay, who tells story through spoken word poetry, said: “There are plenty of things I have trouble understanding. So I write poems to figure things out.”
All of us are seeking meaning of our lives – the purpose of our living. Why do we live, if have to die in the end? To find out meaning, we form stories. We have stories on how to live life. We have stories on how to die heroically. We formulate stories on everything. The stories we hear construct our belief-system, and from that belief-system, we got our identities.
In this universe, and this existence, where we live with this duality of whether we exist or not and who are we, the stories we tell ourselves are the stories that define the potentialities of our existence. We are the stories we tell ourselves.
Shekhar Kapur said: “I tell a story, and therefore I exist.” I found somewhat similar lines in The Hidden Letters. Protagonist said: “I write to survive….I basically write to know myself and my soul.”
Shekhar, in his Ted talk: “We are the stories we tell ourselves,” said that a story is a contradiction. Everything is a contradiction. The universe is a contradiction. And all of us are constantly looking for harmony. Harmony is the notes that Mozart didn’t give you, but somehow the contradiction of his notes suggest that. It’s the effect of looking for harmony in the contradiction that exists in a storyteller’s mind.
Looking at contradiction means looking for harmony. In this sense, The Hidden Letters is about the change in perception from contradiction to harmony.
Harmony is not resolution. Harmony is the suggestion of a thing that is much larger than resolution. Harmony is the suggestion of something that is embracing and universal and of eternity and of the moment.
In a storyteller’s mind, it’s a contradiction of moralities. Like all other contradictions in the universe, storytelling is looking for harmony and infinity in moral resolutions, resolving one, but letting another go, letting another go and creating a question that is really important.
Questions Raised in the Book
The book makes you ponder over three basic questions:
- Can you live a blissful life with worldly happiness, without being peaceful?
- Can a woman play the roles of a wife, a mother and a woman without favouring one and vanquishing others?
- Is returning of partner after separation the criterion of true love?
Plot of the Novel
In any storytelling, story runs at different levels: physical (plot), psychological and spiritual. At physical level, The Hidden Letters is a story of a woman who despite being a lovely wife, best mother, and accomplishing her dream is haunted by nightmares, because of her past deeds.
At psychological level, it’s a story of a woman who wants to be loved with all her mistakes, evil deeds and imperfections.
At spiritual level, it’s a story of a restless woman who is struggling between happiness and peace.
Style of Narration
Author’s narration is articulate, vivid, engaging and emphatic. She executed the mystery of hidden letters interestingly, by unravelling the suspense in stepwise manner – right revelation at right time. Character-sketching and introduction of characters is beautifully done. Inclusion of poems to convey the innermost feelings, is another strong point of the book.
Story runs at two time periods: present and flashback. At the present time, protagonists are happily married, and flashback deals with their courtship & relationship building phase.
The way their first meeting and beginning of love is dealt with, is gonna liked by teenagers and youth, but it may not spell its charm, in the same manner, on adults and aged people.
When they were courting, they were graduation students. The dialogues of that period are in accordance with their age groups. College goers talk in that fashion, but chances are that grownups may find the dialogues childish.
As the age of lead protagonist increases in novel, her maturity reflects in her dialogues. Author’s profound insights on life and love, through the perspective of middle aged protagonist, have the potential to earn the respects of intellectuals also. It may compel them to change their initial opinion regarding author’s approach.
Relationship among Love, Feminism and Spirituality
I’m amazed how Purba drops deep thoughts on life & spiritualism so unceremoniously! A reader is required to read each line carefully, because one doesn’t know, when gonna encounter a spiritual gem.
There is a line in the book, “As you all know, all my books are largely based on love, feminism and spirituality.” It is said very casually in the book as a thank you note, by protagonist, after receiving a literary prize.
But just look at its profoundness! The three words: Love, Feminism and Spirituality have a special relationship. They together form the core of Bhakti Yoga – The Devotional Path to Divinity. The basic requirement is having a kind feminine heart.
Gender Differences in the Brain
Masculinity and Femininity is not defined by physical appearance, but by the prevailing mind-set. Dr. Helen Fisher did an extensive research on Personality Traits associated with Masculinity and Femininity and found neurological circuitry, dominated by neurotransmitters, like testosterone & estrogen responsible for it. She found Bill Clinton feminine and Hillary Clinton masculine. To know more about this, you can listen Dr. Helen’s talk on Gender Differences in the Brain.
Due to different wiring of brain in male and female, they interpret the same thing in a different way. Men and Women also see love differently.
Barbara and Allan Pease in their book, “Why Men Want Sex And Women Need Love,” mentioned an study of Fisher and Brown, who both separately and together, analyzed the brain scans of over 3,000 “madly-in-love” college students taken while they looked at a picture of their lover. They found that the women in the study showed more activity in the caudate nucleus—as mentioned, an area in the brain associated with memory, emotion, and attention—the septum, also called the “pleasure center,” and the posterior parietal cortex, which is involved in the production of mental images and memory recall. The men in the study showed more activity in the visual cortex and visual processing areas, including one area responsible for sexual arousal. Bartels and Zeki came to the same conclusions in their study. This evidence shows why men and women have very different views of love relationship.
Men and Women See Love Differently
At this stage allow me to cite an excerpt from the book to illustrate the difference between masculine and feminine interpretation of it.
“Anaya could not stop herself from surrendering to Nishith with all her mind, soul and body. A woman hungry for her man’s love can never stop her man from loving her, touching her and feeling her.”
A masculine mind interprets the phrase: “Woman hungry for her man’s love” in terms of lust. A male mind thinks that Anaya surrendered to feeling of lust, overpowering her.
On the other hand, a feminine mind interprets it in terms of Anaya’s kindness and caring nature towards Nishith. A female mind understands that Anaya’s surrender wasn’t under the influence of lust, but out of her willingness to see Nishith happy. A woman mind knows that Anaya’s happiness lies in the happiness of Nishith. A female mind is aware of the fact that surrender of ego in love brings bliss.
Krishna is the only Complete Male
To better understand it in terms of spiritual context, let me tell you a story from the life of Meera Bai, who got Enlightenment through Bhakti Yoga. She was denied the entry into the prestigious Krishna Temple of Vrindavan. The Head Priest had banned the admission of women in the temple. When Meera learnt about the prohibition, she sent a message to the head priest, asking: “How could you remain a male in the temple of Krishna? I thought that besides Krishna no other male existed. Are you also a male?”
The head priest realized his mistake and the doors of the temple were open for women afterwards. If one chooses to get established in the State of Highest Wisdom through love by surrendering one’s self, one has to be a female. As there is no way for a female to attain Moksha through the route of Mahavira, it is also not possible for a male to attain the Supreme State through Bhakti Yoga. Meditation and love are the two paths to Nirvana devised for masculine and feminine mind respectively.
There is an account on breast development and menstruation in the life of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, especially when he was practising the Sakhi tradition.
In Bengal, there is a sect called Sakhis. The Sakhis believe that God alone is male, everyone else is female – Krishna is God, everyone else is his sakhi, his girlfriend. In Sakhi tradition, males also consider themselves as females.
Devdutt Pattanaik in his book, “Jaya,” revealed that Krishna, being a cent per cent male, didn’t have nipples on his body.
Reflection of Sufism in Author’s Writing
There is a beauty in Sufi statements. They are equally valid in the context of worldly as well as spiritual love.
Purba’s statements too have Sufi touch. They contain layers of meaning. Take this one:
“No matter how powerful one’s first love is, it is nothing compared to the true love, the love which is meant to be….True love reigns over first love. And also that when someone gives up hope, they give up on life too soon.”
The statement could be interpreted at worldly as well as spiritual level. The worldly interpretation could be found in the lines on love written by Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think & Grow Rich.” He wrote:
“Love may come and go, times without number, but there are no two love experiences which affect one in just the same way. There may be, and there usually is, one love experience which leaves a deeper imprint on the heart than all the others, but all love experiences are beneficial, except to the person who becomes resentful and cynical when love makes its departure.”
On spiritual plane, the statement says that no matter how powerful is one’s first love, i.e. humanly love, it’s nothing compared to the true love, the love that is meant to be, the love with God, the love with Whole. Love with Existence always reigns over the love with other human beings.
Anything is supportive only to an extent, and after that becomes lethal.
Let it understand this way. One day you had to come out of mother’s womb. If you would have remained there longer than nine months, you would have been dead – not only you, but your mother would also have been dead. Womb is only protective to an extent, and after that becomes lethal. You only get nourishment in a womb for a limited time, and then you have to come out of it for further nourishment.
Same is the case in love with other human beings. It is nourishing only to an extent. It gives freedom only to an extent, and after that becomes limiting. There comes a point when you have to come out of humanly love, and enter into love with Existence to enjoy eternal freedom of being.
I appreciate author’s depth, when she said: “People think their entire life that their surroundings and their near ones are the only ones who can make them happy. It is such a myth. By being yourself, by being God’s creation, you can be the happiest.”
Sufism simply means a love affair with God, with the ultimate, a love affair with the whole. It means that one is ready to dissolve into the whole; that one is ready to invite the whole to come into one’s heart.
The relationship is dangerous. It is dangerous because the closer you come to God, the more and more you evaporate. And when you have come really close you are no more. It is dangerous because it is suicidal…..but the suicide is beautiful. “To Die in God is the only way to Live really.”
That is why, the line: “And also that when someone gives up hope, they give up on life too soon” seems relevant on both planes, worldly as well as spiritual.
Drawbacks of Book
There are a few typos in the book. At some places, space is missing between words. In 2-3 pages, printing is slightly inclined to the right on the paper.
The major drawback, I found, is the absence of Table of Contents. The book is divided into chapters, each with a proper title. It would have been easy to access individual chapters separately with Pagination in Table of Contents.
Coelho, Amish and Purba
Business World said: “Amish is…..the Paulo Coelho of the east.”
Well, I doubt that on the basis of my understanding of Amish’s Shiva Trilogy. I felt that Amish’s Shiva didn’t become Mahadeva. When he was required to reflect his wisdom through his actions, he failed. He behaved like any ordinary human being instead of the Great Mahadeva. The events, during the climax of The Shiva Trilogy, show Shiva’s attachment to his wife. He didn’t rise in love. I don’t find these dilemmas in Coelho’s work. I talked about this at length with Lata Subramanian of Lata Wonders in her post: Was Amish’s Shiva a God or a Godman?
As I see, Purba has enormous talent and potential of becoming a true Coelho of east. Her grip on spiritual understanding and her reflections on love, life & relationship qualify her as a prominent candidate in race. The only thing lacking is experience, which she will accumulate with passage of time and with her passion for writing. In the language of Paulo Coelho, Purba has found her Personal Legend, which is writing.
Author’s Understanding on Relationships
John Gray in his book, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” said that one of the biggest differences between men and women is how they cope with stress. Men become increasingly focused and withdrawn while women become increasingly overwhelmed and emotionally involved. At these times, a man’s needs for feeling good are different from a woman’s. He feels better by solving problems on his own in his cave while she feels better by talking about her problems with whom she trusts. Not understanding and accepting these differences creates unnecessary friction in a relationship.
When men go their caves they tend to forget that their friends may be having problems too. An instinct takes over that says before you can take care of anybody else, you must first take care of yourself.
This basic understanding of male psychology, by Purba, reflects in a quote from The Hidden Letters: “The person who was himself broken couldn’t have mended anyone else’s heart.”
So when a man is in his cave, it isn’t the right time to discuss problems or sort out misunderstandings. A woman should respect the need of a man to withdraw, to cope with stress and should wait for his come back from his cave.
This is what the lead protagonist did in The Hidden Letters, when her husband left her and went to live in a separate house alone. She said to her daughter: “Your Dad needs some time to gain his composure, we should not interrupt his solitude.”
Let me cite another example from The Hidden Letters to show Purba’s deep understanding on love and relationship:
There is a husband who doesn’t love his wife, but takes good care of her. He even, from workplace, calls her at regular intervals to know her well being.
Strange, but that is how it is! Purba in her previous novel, Walking in the Streets of Love and Destiny, talked about the difference between Life-partner and Soul-mate. Her present novel could be taken as a journey from Life-partner to Soul-mate.
Some quotes from the book
- Everything changes: situation, people, time, place and feelings too. There is no solution in complaining, but rather it is wise to accept the changes occurring around us and within us….When life keeps no other options for us, it’s better to move on.
- Time could make a person, it could break a person, and most importantly, there was no way to control time….When your time is not at your best, you be at your best.
- You are like these waves yourself. No matter how many times life has knocked you down, you always managed to stand up on your feet.
- As artists, we are eternally heartbroken and this prospect makes us successful. The suffering is inevitable for every artist, it doesn’t require a reason.
- Marriage is like a rose bud. With time, it will bloom to a beautiful rose. Have faith….When a rose plant bears a bud, no one knows whether the bud will be eaten up by insects or birds, or bloom into a beautiful rose.
- Looks are deceptive and those that are not deceptive are not flamboyant.
Excerpt to Exhibit Author’s Writing Skill
A fountain of sadness spilled through Anaya’s blood as she rushed towards her car. More than the sadness, a plethora of implacable, unrelenting guilt washed over her soul. She sat in her car, oblivious to the honking of other vehicles. All that she could hear at that particular moment were the screams of her inner voice. Her screams questioned her integrity and she looked at the rear-view mirror questioning her inner voice, “Am I responsible for Varsha’s fate? What I did in the past, was that truly implacable?” Her reflection seemed to abdicate her. The long abandoned mirror pulled her into her past mistake which she had locked somewhere away from everyone, away from her own self. Destiny had unearthed that key and opened the lock, flooding her with tears of realization.