Jahnavi Barua belongs to that growing pantheon of Indian writers in the English language whose style is a new movement in literature that has quietly developed almost unseen over the past few decades. You certainly took your time to show up. Year after year, we waited, your father and I, nerves jangling. I never gave […]

Jahnavi Barua belongs to that growing pantheon of Indian writers in the English language whose style is a new movement in literature that has quietly developed almost unseen over the past few decades.

You certainly took your time to show up. Year after year, we waited, your father and I, nerves jangling. I never gave up on you. I want you to know that. In the last year, I sensed that your father had given up and I tried to tell him not to, but he was already drifting away from me and nothing I said seemed to make a difference anymore.’ Jahnvai Barua writes in the book.

“Rebirth” is a woman’s journey into personhood. Kaberi has been living in limbo, waiting and hoping for a child, waiting and hoping for her indifferent husband to care for her. It was an arranged marriage, as marriages still are apparently in parts of India, and the gulf between Kaberi and her husband was more than the difference in their social status and aspirations. It is not just that he has another woman and that his so-called business trips have escalated into separation just as the longed-for child is conceived. And inconceivably, from a western perspective, it is not even that he beats her. It is because he believes that he alone has the right to make decisions about their future. Kaberi, on her journey to personhood, begins to see that she has not only the right but also the responsibility to make decisions about her future and that of her child.

It’s a story about a woman, Kaberi, who is from Assam, from a humble background, and got betrothed to an affluent, rich man in Bangalore, in a typical arranged marriage.

The book unfolds her life’s story; her tumultuous married life, how her husband drifted away as she couldn’t conceive after many years of marriage, infidelity, and even accepting the insults her husband hurled at her, making her feel diminished! But one day, she suddenly gets to know that she is expecting. The story starts with this revelation.

Jahnavi Barua’s “Rebirth” is an intimate portrait of the passionate bond between a mother and her unborn child. Moving between Bangalore and Guwahati, the novel weaves together Kaberi’s inner and outer worlds as she negotiates the treacherous waters of betrayal and loss—an unfaithful husband, a troubled relationship with her parents, and the death of a childhood friend.

With characteristic restraint and disarming honesty, Jahnavi Barua lays bare the disquieting predicaments of contemporary urban life and reveals the timeless and redemptive power of love, friendship, and self-renewal.

From the beginning until the birth, the mother speaks to her unborn child; the pangs of motherhood and love are beautifully captured in this book; the throes of emotions that descend upon Kaberi are poignantly written.The beauty of Assam and the river Brahmaputra is so mesmerizingly described, that it compels you to be enamoured by reading it, and there is this uncanny yearning to see this heaven at least once!

What path would Kaberi take?

Would she live with her husband for the sake of her child?

Did she realise what was important to her and to her child?

 The readers will get to know the answers when they venture on this path, and the story will beautifully unravel! 

 The story is of a woman from the north-east of India who lived all her life in the small city of Guwahati and suddenly has to experience living with her husband in Bangalore.

Barua has shared the pain and prowess shown by a woman in the most bizarre and utterly possible situations. The protagonist›s inner conflicts and confusions as she tries to grapple with the promises of motherhood and betrayal of her love have been meticulously depicted. This book should be read for the sheer fun of the details of emotions and the discrepancies of life.

Set in the backdrop of Bengaluru and Assam, Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua is a beautiful, understated, and poignant story of a lonely mother talking to her unborn child growing inside her womb. This novel evoked so many unspoken emotions within you that your heart would be heavier with love and full of hope for that unborn child by the time you turned the last page. You›d leave wanting more because you were so engrossed in Kaberi›s and her little ray of sunshine›s lives.

The story-line would not be amiss as the basis of innumerable Bollywood ennui inducers, but the author writes with such refreshing innocence that one can feel the protagonist›s pain just as surely as if the author were writing about her own personal pain. Some details have been shared about her experiences of living in a small town which has remained «disturbed» for a long time but still exudes warmth to its residents.

‹Rebirth› is written as a monologue from Kaberi to her unborn child. It may sound unusual, but it is, in fact, an ingenious example of the effectiveness of first-person narration; deeply touching, but never sentimental; restrained, but never frustrating; patient, but always page-turning.

This novel takes you through different dimensions of all the relationships a woman has; with her parents, with her friends, with her in-laws, with her family-like-neighbours, and most importantly, with her yet to be born baby, and herself. The relationship between a mother and a child is highlighted, and that part of the story is not just touching, it’s divine, like the relationship itself.

This moving book evokes in one a longing for the lucid exchanges that take place only in the most intimate moments. It is rich in lyrical passages and rife with descriptive beauty. From impulsive, split-second decisions to patient and overly optimistic waiting, Jahnavi Barua writes with depth and evokes manifold emotions through her effortless prose and skilled storytelling.

As the protagonist travels the broad length of the country from Bangalore to Assam and back again, uncertain of a house or home, we get a glimpse into her mind, her circumstances, and through that, and her interactions with others, a peek into the scary bubble that encases the illusion of blessed conjugal life. Terse and tense, this wonderful book is worth every second that you decide to spend on it.

This book is heart-wrenching, at the same time encouraging and full of hope. The story grips the reader in such a way that it evokes all kinds of emotions; sadness, uncertainties of life, love, betrayal. Raw feelings regarding abandonment as well as coming to terms with emotions so deep have been portrayed well. A beautiful narrative offers a sensitive portrayal of a mother-to-be.

(It is a book worth going back to on a day when you’d definitely want to find the light at the end of your despair tunnel.

It is heartening to see that our country is throbbing with lovely contemporary authors and they are taking pains to write books for us. I am impressed by Jahnavi’s work; she is a medical graduate from Guwahati medical college; she didn’t pursue her post-graduation and doesn’t practise medicine. Because of her love for writing, this book is throbbing with emotions of love, anger, resentment, hatred and much more! 

Jahnavi Barua is a writer based in Bengaluru. Her first book, Next Door, a collection of short fiction, was published by Penguin India in 2008 to wide critical acclaim. The second, a novel, Rebirth, was published in 2010 and shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize. Undertow is her third book. She was awarded the Charles Wallace Trust fellowship for creative writing in 2006. Her books are on the syllabi of many universities, and her short fiction has been widely anthologized.

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is Bangalore based Management Consultant, Literary Critic and Advisor with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached out at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com)