A review of Sumana Roy's novel Missing
What can be more compelling than a story that takes a leap back in time to recount a case of molestation that occurred on a busy street in Assam, and that too by exploring the psyche of the molester, the molested and a society that has become desensitized to sexual violence given the frequency of the occurrences? Missing, set in 2012, is a relevant novel at a crucial time—a novel that stresses nothing significant has changed in six years since the incident took place. A year has elapsed since its publication in 2018 and we still wake up to the news of a three-year-old being raped by a middle-aged man in Punjab, or a deaf-mute girl being gang raped by three men in Uttar Pradesh. The picture is not any better in Bangladesh: 279 minors have faced sexual harassment within the first four months in 2019!
Missing recalls “the 2012 Guwahati molestation case” where a girl fell victim to sexual assault led by a group of 30 men outside a bar. The molestation continued for about 40 minutes and a journalist filmed it when a curious crowd watched it from a distance. No one reached out; the police arrived late.
The novel begins as the girl goes missing and Kobita, a fifty-four-year-old activist, heads out on a mission from Siliguri to Guwahati with a view to finding her. At one point, communal riot breaks out in Assam and phone calls stop coming from Kobita. Consequently, her blind husband back home, a poet ironically named Nayan, and a worrying son studying overseas, undergo a series of emotional outbursts, as they try to reason with her whimsical decision leading to her disappearance for weeks.
The novel shows what happens when a South Asian mother—an essential figure in the family—goes out into the world, leaving her shongshar behind. Sumana Roy gives her female character a breath of fresh air by liberating her from the duties of a mother and a wife— from being “the angel in the house”— and giving her the rights to venture out into the world when she feels she must.
Sumana Roy is an Indian poet, essayist and fiction writer. She is the author of How I Became a Tree, a work of nonfiction; Missing: A Novel, and Out of Syllabus: Poems. She has also edited Animalia Indica: The Finest Animal Stories in Indian Literature. She’ll be attending the DLF for the first time this year.
Shahroza Nahrin is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.