There’s an interesting theory in physics about apparently random events which can be predicted because there is an underlying system to it – part of it is what we call the butterfly effect, the theory that the flap of a butterfly’s wings could call a storm in Brazil. Roughly speaking that is the story of Chaos Theory, Anuvab Pal’s novel adapted from his play of the same name.
Sunita and Mukesh are two English literature students who bump into each other as freshers at St Stephen’s College in Delhi during the sixties. Mukesh is attracted and tries to win over Sunita with a quotations game – only to discover to his surprise that she knows as much about Shakespeare than he does. His ego is slightly hurt but the two of them embark on a relationship based solely on quotations which leads them from India to the US, traversing various US universities in search of jobs and romance. That the two have a relationship is very obvious – the only problem is that Mukesh will not commit himself.
As a play it operates through two different sets of soliloquys, people capping quotes with witty comeback lines. The novel has chapters written in alternate voices, one by Sunita, one by Mukesh. Mukesh’s inability to commit is very Calcutta – in fact one wonders why he was made a Punjabi and Sunita a Delhi Bengali because two Bengalis wandering randomly in and out of each other’s lives would have seemed ideal – especially since Mukesh is a nerd in true Calcutta fashion, even wanting to be called ‘Michael’ to prove how smart he is.
The novel allows Pal the freedom to wander through the minds of his protagonists, something which is not possible in a play. It also gives him more space to describe changing times, New York for example as the lives of his characters move from the 70’s to the 80’s
Regardless of what a lot of people have been speculating, Chaos Theory cannot be called ‘a classic love story’. In classic love stories the two protagonists end happily ever after – in this case they get involved with other people, starting with Sunita who discovers that her attempts to get Mukesh to confess his love for her are going nowhere. Sunita finds and marries the apparently insufferable Amit, a communist with no sense of humour and Mukesh on the rebound, but still determined not to commit, gets involved with a student of his. However Sunita and Mukesh do manage to remain in each other’s lives and come to the rescue at important moments – Amit for example is stranded in Canada when Sunita’s waters burst and coincidentally Mukesh just happens to be handy.
Some critics have been comparing the book to Tagore’s Shesher Kobita, The Last Poem. Presumably because there the hero and his lady love of the time match Tagore quotations during their courtship. However the comparison is fleeting. Sunita and Mukesh’s is a taut exchange of witty lines backed by descriptions of their changing worlds and possessions. From the beginning of their relationship in Delhi in the sixties, time has moved on, but their mental space has not grown – at least Mukesh’s hasn’t. Sunita, on the other hand, wisely realises she has to move on and manages to find some kind of affection for her husband, while keeping her commitment to Mukesh intact.
Chaos Theory by Anuvab Pal
Published in India by Picador, 2012
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