An Equal Music : Expecting rain and getting a drizzle ( A Review)

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Vikram Seth, the mere name stirs a range of emotions in me. I first read him when I was 17 and the book was “ A Suitable Boy”;  A much acclaimed but a highly verbose and voluminous  book.  Ofrecently, the  man has become more than a renowned writer to me. For me he is a voice  of  Gay Rights activism in India.  It was this recent fascination coupled with the fact that “ A Suitable Boy” till date remains my favourite book that propelled me to pick up “ An Equal Music”  in the recently concluded World Book Fair in Delhi.

I would like to add a disclaimer before I review the book. If a debut novel has reached great heights in literary world and has won a plethora of awards, it naturally becomes a masterpiece. The problem with masterpieces however is that every subsequent work is unfavourably compared to it. In this comparison we often forget that masterpieces are a rarity and are not assembly line products. Every subsequent work of Vikram Seth, be it Two Lives, Golden Gate or An Equal Music has been compared to “ A Suitable Boy” and  the reviews would invariably be through a coloured perception of a loyal fan of his debut novel.

I should have guessed by title and the cover that music does not form  a mere background of the story. It is much more than that.  Despite having the protagonists , the real protagonist of the  novel  is music.  Now, I am  not a  musical person at all. I do not have an I-pod  and I never listen to the radio. Therefore, for a  musically  illiterate person  to navigate the complex terminology of  music, violin in particular  was more than a bit of a challenge.   

 The author‘s desire  to talk about every  nuance, every subtlety of  the world that belongs to Batch and Beethoven , in my opinion overshadows the story.  So what’s the story? It is a simple story of loving and losing that has been made highly complex by weaving in the intricate details of  music which are beyond the comprehension of a common person.  Michael and Julia  not only love the world of music but also each other. They  are fantastic as co- workers. Love happens to them  while they are studying music.  However due to circumstances  beyond Michael’s  control their love does not reach its culmination  and they have to part.  The  reason for their  parting is  mentioned only in passing and never elaborated.  For someone  so much in love, I would expect a  very solid and justified reason to leave  my beloved behind. Michael’s depression is never explained and is summarily dismissed in the novel.  Their chance meeting  after 10 years and  the beginning of their affair  similarly lacks depth.  The story is from Michael’s perspective so the readers know how heart- broken he was  without Julia.  Given this line of logic, it is understandable that he would want to persue her and give love a second chance. However, Julia is “presumably”  happily married and has a child.  The author does not prepare enough ground in the novel to justify Julia’s going back to Michael.  Why would she want to go back to Michael, if he was the one who deserted her? The logic beats me. Go back she does but only to return to her family. Michael is left alone once again with only music as his solace. Oh by the way, Julia is going deaf. The tragedy that no musician would like to face but Julia seems to be coping very well by taking lip reading classes and hiding her condition more or less effectively from the people around her. Julia’s deafness , that could have been a highlight of the story  is developed in such a way that it is as good as not being there.

Having said this, the book is a poetry in motion. The passion for one’s love,  be it for music or for a person is beautifully portrayed.  I found myself empathising with Michael when he was faced with Julia’s  rudeness. I had tears in my eyes when I knew Julia is gone forever and Michael is left only with her memories for the rest of his life.

A book that could have been so much more leaves the reader wanting for more. Reading “ An Equal Music” is like expecting your soul to be drenched and soaked in the rain of emotions but what you get is  mere drizzle. I’m a bit like Michael though. Like his love for Julia  which never ebbs even in the most adverse of circumstances, my love for Vikram Seth and his writings would always remain, no matter if they measure up to my expectations or not. Crazy fan you say? I call it pure love for the world of words. 


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