Reviewed by Nisha Misra
Title: Invisible Ties
Author: Nadya A. R
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
A scintillating saga of longing and desire, love and lust, betrayal and trust, reality and illusion, Invisible Ties keeps the reader hooked till the very end. Sprinkled with historical references and political undertones, the novel seems to read like a Bildungsroman tracing the physical as well as the psychological journey of Noor, its protagonist. As Noor moves out of Karachi, marries into Singapore, strays into Malay and ‘surfaces’ in London, the reader cannot but be baffled by the enigma that she is.
The novel may seem to be the tale of a young, coy, overprotected girl whose Page 3 narcissistic mother’s only desire is to find a suitable rich match for her (preferably outside the volatile atmosphere of Pakistan) and whose father is a case in hopelessness and self-pity. Nurtured in the confinement of home and country, Noor’s life takes an unexpected turn when a robbery at their palatial bungalow by their own guards, who also abduct her mother, tears the family apart. The most painful part of the episode is the death of her trusted driver, Uncle Joseph, who lays down his life in order to save hers. Her marriage to Meekal, who is settled in Singapore, is a compromise of sorts for the sake of her family, but a compromise that reveals itself to be so only when she joins her husband there.
The author skilfully weaves the mystery shrouding the relationships or the ties that bind the various characters in the novel – be it the mystery surrounding the abduction, the release and subsequent silence of Noor’s mother on the topic, her mother-in-law’s eccentricities and secret life, Meekal’s complicated love-hate relationship with his ex-girlfriend Jyoti, Noor’s illusions surrounding the ghost of Uncle Joseph, her Chinese friend Ella’s attempt at keeping her marriage intact or Jake’s depression and fatal attraction towards his ex-girlfriend – and is an insightful study in the workings of the human mind and the complexities that define and govern human relationships.
Each character is a study in psychoanalysis. Abounding in symbolism, Noor’s green jade mirror with its Chinese dragons is a prominent symbol. It remains her sheet and anchor throughout the novel, the only constant in her fragile fluid life. Flowers, birds and animals particularly woven or painted on the fabrics that she wears are a recurring motif throughout the novel, symbolising her own caged existence and quest for emancipation. Her mother-in-law’s collection of glass menagerie becomes a potent symbol where her husband is symbolized by the white tiger and she by the glass mouse that her mother-in-law gifts her.
Nadya A R’s keen sense of perception and eye for detail is obvious in the elaborate description of the historical places, monuments and events, literally alerting the five senses, placing the reader among the ruins or forts or churches be it the A Famosa or the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Malacca or the Lahore Fort. These references may not seem to further the narrative in a significant way, but with subtle strokes reveal or reflect the tumult within the protagonist whose affinity for such historical places symbolises her inability to dissociate herself from her past.
The writer’s knowledge and painstaking research for the work also becomes evident through such references that intersperse the narrative. Her lucid style and romantic expression raise the novel to a level of poetry in prose. Noor’s quest for true love and self fulfilment becomes evident in the lyrical quality of the prose. Be it the description of the glass menagerie at Meekal’s home or that of the patterns of leaves and flowers on the dresses the protagonist wears, everything is heavy with an air of dreaminess about it. The writer’s use of ornamental prose and elaborate descriptions seem to resonate with the various detours that her protagonist’s physical as well as psychological journey takes. Also the fact that the author is herself a psychotherapist contributes to the beautiful word-play revealing the inner workings of the minds of the characters. Though adding much to the beauty of the novel, her keen eye for detail in terms of places and language could be a little taxing at times, making the reader impatient and anxious to reach the point of action. However, an overall impact of the book makes this flaw, if at all, seem insignificant.
The novel is also an interesting study into the workings of the patriarchal machinery, which, despite the so called wave of women emancipation, continues to colonise the feminine mental universe. This becomes evident in the climax that the author chooses for her protagonist where Noor’s quest for self and space in a foreign land coupled with her emphatic claim over her own body finally culminates in Meekal’s arms. Maybe Noor could have been depicted as moving on and reclaiming her life minus Meekal, negating the very need of a man in life or even the institution of marriage, which is, even otherwise, a clever patriarchal ploy. The ending of the novel is a personal choice; overall, Invisible Ties – with its air of mystery, suspense, drama and in particular the character of Noor as well as the beauty of expression – is an interesting and alluring read.
Dr Nisha Misra is Assistant Professor in the Amity Institute of Corporate Communication, Amity University NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh (India) where she teaches both English Literature as well as Communication Skills. She has a Ph.D in Australian Short Fiction from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla and is actively involved in presenting papers in International seminars apart from having varied publications to her credit. With a penchant for writing, both critical and creative, her area of interest is fiction as well poetry.