Latitude of Longings by Shubhangi Swarup
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
Latitudes of Longings is a collection of four intertwining stories (Islands, Faultline, Valley, Snow Desert). The book covers so much ground, literally and figuratively. It spans across islands, mountains, valleys and the ocean. As well as across timelines. Shubhangi explores many aspects of our humanity, but most of all our relationship with nature.
The islands tells the story a newly married intellectual couple, Girija and Chanda. It is set in the Andaman Islands in the 1940s, Chanda can see ghosts, talk to trees and see beyond ordinary human life whereas Girija enjoys studying how the islands came into being. Their marriage is arranged however with time they come to know and trust each other. It is interesting to see how their relationship develops as time passes. The writing for this story is particularly exquisite. The luscious descriptions of the landscapes of what is, what had been and what could be is beautiful.
"Silence on a tropical island is the relentless sound of water"
"For the rains have flooded deep into their beings"
"The rain forest shrivels. Leaves and fruits wither instantaneously. The beach is a mosaic of ice, sand and snow. Turquoise waves pound chucks of ice onto the shore"
This is follows the story of Mary who was Chanda's maid. Mary hearing that her son, Plato, who she gave away, had been sent to prison goes in search of him. We are also taken on a journey to the past into Mary's own life, of how she came to be married at 16,bear a child and then abandon him. She longs for the son she has never seen and would not be able to recognize even if he stood in front of her.
"This is what death is, he thinks. A moment isolated from everything and everyone else. A moment magnified and distorted beyond comprehension. A moment devoid of all possibility. An ossified moment, Like a shell discarded by a mollusk, the moment resonates with reverberations and echoes. Not life".
Valley is about Thapa who smuggles drugs. Thapa had been introduced to us in Fautlines as Plato's friend. It focuses on the relationship between Bebo, an exotic dancer and Thapa. Bebo finds an unexpected friendship in Thapo. It is clear that few people have been kind to Bebo and their relationship is wholesome. While on a trip Thapo finds himself among the Drakpo people and receives an invite from Apo, the patriarch of the hamlet. Apo gets to know Thapo and expresses his interest in marrying an old Kashmiri woman.
"Centuries of Solitude weigh him down, like a sea of sediment on a fossil"
Apo ,in his eighties, is longing for the company of the old Kashmiri woman. Girija Prasad's grandson, Rana meets Girija as a ghost. They talk about the past, the effects of gravity and the wisdom of Chanda. What Girija could not fathom as a human, he now understands as a ghost.
"Sometimes, the past is an incomprehensible beast and the future its unrealized shadow.
Shubhangi's writing is out of this world. It is lyrical and luscious. I never thought I'll enjoy descriptions of nature so much. It makes me long to visit those places.
Shubhangi makes comparisons that we normally would not dare. The shifting of continents with Girijap stretching his body. Chandra dying in childbirth with that of a plant that dies once it flowers. The end result? Our seemingly insignificant and separate life is finally united with all that is conscious. In this case, the conscious includes the oceans as well as she argues " If a human being is not reducible to mere bones and blood, how can an ocean be reduced to its geographical space, the element of water or the form it
The human life is viewed in its entirety throughout the book - a collection of fleeting memories. However, this does not diminish human life, it makes it all the more precious. The story that I loved the most was of Girija and Chanda. The descriptions of nature, lyrical writing along with the philosophical musings is amazing.
In the acknowledgements, Shubhangi credits our unassuming plant as her muse. She also admits that this book, although fiction, has brought her closer to the truth. I absolutely agree with her. I do believe that there is a continuity to life and that nature including our beautiful planet does have its own consciousness. One that our ordinary mind cannot understand.