Desert Isle Keeper
A Distant Heart
I have not read Sonali Dev before, but I’ve heard such wonderful things about her books that I was eager to start by reading A Distant Heart. Her voice is so unique and the story she has woven is so beautiful and emotionally wrenching that I’m still thinking of the people in her story days after I read ‘The End’. She brings the city of Mumbai to life, from its wealth to its dregs, and A Distant Heart‘s impact and complexity comes from its being told in both protagonists’ points-of-view, at times dueling, at times yearning.
Kirit Patil, a wealthy industrialist turned politician, lives in the uber rich neighborhood of Pali Hill. When a brave police officer takes a bullet for Kirit, the life of the officer’s son, Rahul Savant, is changed forever. Kirit visits Rahul’s mother and siblings in their lower middle class apartment to try to convince her to let him provide a better life for Rahul by giving him a stellar education. Having held his dying father’s body in his arms, Rahul nurtures a strong hatred for Kirit, but Rahul’s mother finally convinces him to not let pride stand in the way of a good future for himself and his younger siblings.
Thus, Rahul comes into Kimaya “Kimi” Patil’s sphere, beginning a friendship that spans fourteen years, from childhood into adulthood. Kimi has a grave health issue that requires her to live in a bubble of sorts to prevent infections, but even so, she has been hospitalized countless times in her young life. As a result, Rahul’s and Kimi’s friendship has unfolded within the walls of her room. He was has been her eyes into the world outside her confined life, bringing calculus, author Premchand, and the history of civilization, all into her room.
For the two of them, class differences and economic differences play no part in the meeting of minds and for her to fall into infatuation, and then into love with him. Rahul, on the other hand, is clear that the two of them have no future together, despite the fact that he’s as in love with her as she is with him.
One day, a miracle occurs and a donor heart is found for Kimi, offering her a new lease of life. She’s free to go to college and build relationships with her peers, but she never forgets Rahul. She adores him and makes no secret of it, but Rahul has sworn to himself to let her live her life on her own terms with complete freedom. He lets her go.
Two years on, Kimi has become a journalist. One day, while reporting a story, she’s assaulted by Asif Khan, king of the underbelly of Mumbai criminal class, who whips up her blouse to see the scar of her heart transplant and demands to know who she received the donor heart from. When she poses the question to Kirit, he’s evasive, saying the donor was anonymous, they signed confidential papers, and refuses to elaborate further. Kimi becomes determined to get to the bottom of the matter.
For two years, Rahul, now in the Mumbai police force, has pursued Asif Khan, who has been arranging murders and then illegally harvesting organs and selling them overseas. Rahul hates that the sociopathic gangster has now dragged innocent Kimi into his circle of evil. He manages to finally catch up with Khan and empties five bullets into him, but Khan doesn’t die; instead he slips into a coma, taking all his secrets with him.
When the book opens, Kimi is determined to unmask the donor from whom she received her heart and Rahul is just as determined to wrest answers from Khan.
Earlier that morning, she had sent him a text message saying, “We need to talk.” Those four words had never in the history of humankind ever led to anything good.
Kimi and Rahul have reached an impasse. While Rahul wants Kimi’s friendship but not a romantic relationship with her, Kimi has declared, for the ninth time, that she wants him to leave her alone. Forever. She never wants to see him again, and this time, she means it.
While Kimi and Rahul are involved in their discussion, Khan wakes up from his coma, and with the help of his associates, manages to evade the police cordon to vanish into the vast city. Rahul is now terrified for Kimi’s safety and is determined to nab the gangster before he can do her harm. This slightly implausible story development needs a leap of faith from the reader, but Dev makes it the rest of the story hang together plausibly and seamlessly.
The relationship between Kimi and Rahul unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Their bone-deep caring for each other is obvious to the reader (and to them), which is why Rahul’s distancing stance is so hard on Kimi. How they reconcile their differences and realize that they’re essential to each other is a journey into magic. Dev builds up their sexual tension really well, and when they make love, it is raw sexuality and a meeting of souls.
Stop being so old-fashioned, Rahul. We’re both adults. My honor is not buried in my crotch. And if it were, you just made it explode out of there.
I cannot say enough how much I liked the way Dev took me into Mumbai, making the city come alive in a way that anchored her characters there and made it impossible to divorce them from the setting. This is the hallmark of a skilled writer and makes A Distant Heart a pleasure to read.
Freedom was a beautiful thing! Mumbai in all its grimy, gray, pre-monsoon glory flew past Kimi as her auto-rickshaw spend between cars and pedestrians with the zeal of a bastard child born of a Diwali rocket and an immortal god.
Dev’s writing is expressive and redolent of human frailties and transcendent emotions. Here is an example of how the younger Kimi safe in her home and secure in the love of her parents, feels.
Kimi loved to run her fingers over the timeworn silver when she hugged Mamma. When Mamma moved through the house, the tinkling sound of the bells mixed with the muted jangle of the keys. It was possibly Kimi’s favorite sound in all the world.
If you’ve never read Dev, I highly recommend you start with this book.