A reader sends a line

Rajiv Kalsi, whose sister was on the Air India flight whose bombing seeds my novel, wrote me a letter, reprinted here with his permission. Mr. Kalsi’s email was enormously moving to me. Novelists cannot know, and must renounce a desire to know, the effects of our books on others. I wrote this book to try to imagine the intimate (and political) consequences of a public act of terror, but I accept the very real possibility that my imagining will not be “accurate”—resonant—for any particular individual hit by this tragedy. The novelist’s work is experienced in private, the way we create it. Mr. Kalsi’s generous letter—the first I have received from a victim family member—casts a line across this silent gulf.

Here is what he said:

Hello. I just finished reading “The Ever After of Ashwin Rao,” and I wanted to tell you that your writing style engaged me enough to keep me up late and get me up early all last week to finish the book! My wife gave me the book for my birthday just before I left for Iqaluit, Nunavut, for work. My loss of sleep could also have been due to the fact that at this time of year there the sun is up at 4:00a.m. and sets after 10:00p.m, although I still attribute it to the subject of your book.

My family lost my sister in the Air India crash. Your characters’ accounts of the initial news of the crash over the radio or from a phone call from a friend who heard about it, and the confusion that followed, was very familiar to me. I was 19 at the time and my parents and brother were in India waiting for my sister to arrive. I did not go to Ireland that year but went the following year. It was my father who travelled from India to look at the bodies. My sister’s remains were never found, which in some ways was for the best, since we could remember her as she was. My family is from the Sikh faith, and it has torn my father apart knowing that people from the religion that he reveres continued the cycle of violence that had taken so many lives.

My father’s story paralleled that of Venkat in one way: he did not get to know my sister as well as he wished, and I know he regrets that. She was also 21 when she died.
My mother just died after a lengthy decline from the effects of dementia, and my father wishes to bring her ashes to Ahakista, Ireland,to the site of the memorial that they visited annually for 20 years after the crash.

In closing i wanted to say how your book has brought many memories back for me. It is a book i will pass on to my siblings.

Thank you.


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