by Samannaz Rohanimanesh
It is always a joy to see our former contributors move forward with new projects. One of which is Ruchira Khanna, who recently published her fifth novel, "R.S.V.P." The Brown Orient had the opportunity to review the book and chat with Ruchira.
Lime lights flash on... Splash... Blue fluid all around... Breathlessness... Awakening.
This is the grand theatrical debut of a manuscript reminiscent of a Kafkaesque dystopia. The familiar story of the 21st century human being entangled in a cocoon of anxiety and distress.
Is there a way out? One has to go all the way to the end to find out; however the denouement proves unprecient. Lives are lost, bonds are unwound; love scarce. And in the midst of all this pandemonium, souls search for their identity; awaiting their true self to unfold. Each character enters the scene through a dramatic historical background; each bear a scar, either physically or mentally. Each looks for answers in another; each becomes distressed in not finding it. At the same time they are all tethered to one another through an invisible thread that goes round in a loop; they all have something in common and that’s the ongoing pursuit of their raison-d’être. They might not all become triumphant in the end; but the journey is all about that never-ending quest of self-assessment; the destination might not really matter anyhow.
The story unravels with Jay, a mid-career entrepreneur who left a secure corporate job behind to restart life anew with what he has deepest affinity with: aromatic leaves of tea. Having grass roots in incredible India, Jay loves and knows tea by heart, so after a devastating nervous breakdown caused by an emotional heart break, he decides to begin all over from scratch. He builds up a local successful career by taking over a small tea shop, providing some sweet and savory delicacies of mother India, customized to the American taste of Northern California.
Primed with her rich Indian heritage, author Ruchira Khanna, a biochemist by day and a writer by night, takes us into the drab-colored canvas of Jay’s routine in a very detailed-oriented manner. We wake up with Jay, walk his dog along and get off the car to turn open the door into the tea shop to launch yet another day. Sometimes it seems redundant; the details keep recurring over and over again; dragging us in a Groundhog Day movie; somehow distracting the urge to follow up. However various recreational events paint some warm colors into Jay’s shop life: Chess matches, poetry nights, painting classes. We see Jay make an effort to interact with his customers while his broken inner self draws a wall around to keep him safe inside.
But then enters Gina, the adopted sister of Jay who’s actually a first cousin. Her commencement into the story boosts up the scenario to another level. We learn more about Jay’s background, his family, and his father in specific in which he has a love-hate relationship. Gina too has a traumatic life of her own. Suffering from stunt growth since childhood and having lost both parents in an overwhelming incident, has furrowed her innocent personality and has bewildered her by enigmas she can’t fathom; yet she stands as tall as she can be, even taller; the sky is her limit. Her existence fortifies Jay’s willingness in walking into light and her moral support pushes him out of his self-made boundaries. Having Gina on his side, Jay finally decides to run toward an unpredictable liberating experience and the story takes a bumpy turn hence forward.
In R.S.V.P. A Novel, Khanna masterfully invites us to our own experiences of life humdrums. We just need to accept the invitation and take the ride with her utterly familiar characters. Jay’s character, with receding hairline and his apathetic attitude, inadvertently might portray the famous J. Alfred Prufrock, the unforgettable hero of the prominent modernist, American poet and writer T.S. Eliot in his acclaimed poem The J. Alfred Prufrock Love Song. Even their names (Jay and J. Alfred Prufrock) sound similar! Eliot’s hero (similar to Khanna’s Jay) finds himself in Dante’s inferno, walks about London town to console his lost individuality, yet all he finds, are challenges life has thrown on his trail:
“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —“
While T.S. Eliot portrays a disengaged individual, driven to the point of apathy by the war-torn society of the early 20th century, Khanna drives her disoriented characters through this tempestuous ocean by giving them hope; a will to strive. Everything makes sense in the end, although not practically perfect. Revelations dawn and some questions remain for the rest of the spin. Doesn’t it sound familiar? Yes. It’s the story of life itself; with all its ups and down; tears and joys; disappointments and curiosities. That’s how Khanna acknowledges the pains and labors of life; but she somehow manages to find a spark of sunlight in the gloomiest moment of dusk.
The darkest hour is just before dawn after all.
1. What lead you to write about this specific subject?
Most of us (including me!) live in the past or want a certain future thus forgetting to live in the present. This inspired me to write on such a theme.
2. How did you come up with these characters? Are they totally fictional? Or there are some real-life influences?
Yes, the characters are totally fictional. No relation to them whatsoever.
3. What is actually the moral of this book?
The moral is very simple: Embrace your past, and live in the present!
4. Works of which writers have influenced this book and its storytelling techniques?
I am a big fan of Paula Coelho's work. Mostly since he too talks about human relationships. Man is a social animal, and even though we get fed up of our brethren's' attitude we cannot live without them. My work encircles around humans and the various dilemma they are surrounded with.
5. What are your upcoming projects? What’s the next step?
I have a short story coming up. It talks about the astral and the physical world and how humans can still make a mess if they don't let go!