Gita Viswanath’s “Twice It Happened”: A Novel

Review: Ghanishtha Verma

While reading Gita Viswanath’s “Twice It Happened” one goes back to the past viewing the world as an unbiased spectator and feels sad and angry while reading about the present-day society. The novel is the continuous ebb and flow of human feelings and emotions and tries to capture human life with its difficulties and challenges blurring the notion about time, making it slippery!

The novel is a saga of secrets concealed by women to breathe freely and later revealed to die peacefully. It artistically captures the dilemma of women of Indian society where they struggle to express themselves, unapologetically. It also tries to portray issues like breaking up of the joint family system, feeling of otherness, alienation, death, silence, nationalism, war, love, betrayal, guilt and unexplored terrain of the human mind: the unconscious. It creatively tries to quiver the sensibility of human beings, who are rarely humane.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in We All Should Be Feminists writes:

“Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how we should start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The novel draws our attention towards how females were and are still raised traditionally, inferior to males. But in the novel, the female characters even though they were raised traditionally, choose to live their lives differently: independently! All the three women – Nagamma Atha, Jyoti and Chitra are an iconoclast in their respective ways. They made their own decisions  and repented for their own mistakes. They didn’t give the steering wheel of their life to someone else. Nagamma wore sindoor even after becoming a widow and Jyoti and Chitra by not wearing it! They didn’t merely question patriarchal society but also challenged the culture and traditions at every step that consider women as Other of men and subordinate to them. The novel explores the psyche of women and unashamedly informs us about their desires.

The readers may have different views about Gita Viswanath as an author, but we all will agree that she is a conscious and responsible storyteller, who is unbiased and unauthoritative.  

In the novel, we find that Nagamma’s health is serious and her nieces have arrived to see her. Because of Nagamma, Chitra and Jyoti catch up after years, and turn back to their old selves. While counting her final breath, Nagamma promised Jyoti that she’ll share her story (to Jyoti) in her final thirteen day journey, as she says, “I’ll tell you my story on this journey,”

After the final rituals of Nagamma, Jyoti thought that with this the chapter of Nagamma ended, but something else was in the making for her. 

Amidst the crowd of people around her, Jyoti was hearing Nagammas’ voice. Initially she thought that she was merely hallucinating but when she returned to her town and began her daily routine, the voice turned loud. She heard Nagamma’s voice even when she was in college, teaching her students. Jyoti was feeling Nagamma’s presence almost everywhere and every time- in college, her house, at night and all day round. She was feeling as if she (Jyoti) is Vikram and Nagamma, Betaal, forming the Vikram-Betaal duo – telling and listening stories! The fellow professors, students and everyone around her started noticing the indifference in Jyoti’s behaviour which made her go on leave for a few days.

After the funeral rituals, separating from each other, Chitra and Jyoti tried to stay in touch through emails. In her mails Chitra imparted to Jyoti about her relationship with Sridhar, revealed the secret about Shanta’s coming back to her parent’s house only after two days of her wedding, etc.

She wrote to Jyoti about the time when she married Sridhar, moved with him to the place allotted by the army, to dwell. How she was the queer one among them (other officers and their family members) and how Sridhar always used to be quiet. Sridhar was a responsible husband, a meek junior in front of his seniors and a great father. Sridhar always wanted to be a peacetime soldier and dreamt of retiring that way only. She was happily married, until she met Aditya, Sridhars’ junior for whom she left everyone: husband, daughters, parents, family, friends and everyone. Aditya made her feel independent and free. But later the dynamics of their relationship changed. In her mails, Chitra shared with Jyoti how she felt like a beggar when she went to see Sridhar’s funeral. His Chinnaina rebuked her for giving them enough pain and asked her to leave. Chitra turned around to return as she realized that mourning is not her entitlement anymore and tears betrayed her eyes. 

The letters that Jyoti wrote to Chitra are more or less universal. One may find the silences and pauses familiar. Readers are forced to think and question the meaning of nation, nationality and nationalist. Does a country want its people (officers- army, navy and airforce) to die for it or a true nation wants peace, prosperity and happiness of its citizens and officers alike!  Why do people in power prioritize war over peace? No, it’s not noble to die for a nation rather it’s shameful that a nation is more concerned about a piece of land than human life.  Is human life so cheap, unimportant and invaluable!

Towards the last pages of the novel, we find that Nagamma has overpowered Jyoti. Nagamma was everywhere, no matter where Jyoti went, or what she did, she was there with her. She was being accused of being sensitive by people around her. No matter what she did or said she was titled hypersensitive, oversensitive etc. One day, Jyoti stormed out of a Board of Studies meeting that was forcing her to put signature on a decision to remove a book from the syllabus for hurting the religious sentiments. Standing in the midst of the crowd she ranted, “Yes, I am sensitive.”  She was taken away by ambulance. 

It is the character of Jyoti, which gives us the picture of a sensitive individual in this insensitive world, who is true to herself and her ethics standing against the manipulation and erasure of history by the establishment. It is Jyoti, who, like few educators of the country, is fighting for the quality of education, delivery of history as it was, letting the students to understand it in their own way- learning lessons by mistakes and acknowledging the success. She is a metonymy for all those people who believe in tolerance and acceptance, and therefore are tortured by others in order to silence the voice which believes in multiculturalism, respect all religion and are promoters of diversity and peace.

Why is Nagammas’ voice and imaginary body following Jyoti? Is Jyoti mad or schizophrenic or is she merely a vocal and sensitive human being in this inhuman passive world?  Why did Chitras’s mails kept her away from Nagamma’s voice? Why both the strong women-Nagamma and Chitra, have occupied Jyoti’s mind and soul? Is Jyoti a weak person and is trying to escape from her reality or is she a strong broken woman, who is feeling lonely and alienated after the death of Nagamma and geographically distant from Chitra? Is Jyoti frustrated and remorseful for being a silent and true citizen surrounded by conventionalist, loud and severe nationalist who are busy in breaking the promises of our forefathers and foremothers?

The novel tries to deconstruct the culture which is unequal, rigid, intolerant and oppressive. It is open-ended and allows readers to explore the less wandered terrain of the human psyche, idea of nation and nationalism, female desire and ambitions etc. If one wants to understand the unspoken realities and feelings of living in present day society, “Twice It Happened” would be a great pick.

Ghanishtha Verma (M.A. English) currently teaches at the Department of English, Guru Nanak College, Dhanbad as a teaching assistant.