Where Earth Meets Water
Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are.” In this book we learn the story of Karom Seth not just through his eyes but the eyes of all those who are affected by him – and who in turn affect him.
Karom Seth’s life has always been impacted by water. Water had seeped into the tanks at the chemical plant causing the Bhopal Disaster and moving him from India to America. Water had destroyed his family in the tsunami disaster of 2004, leaving him to face the world alone. Water passed across Archer Rock in Acadia National Park in the form of a rogue giant wave on the day he was going to visit, wiping out the families that had already been picnicking there. Karom is unsure what it means that he is always on the outskirts of tragedy, affected by it but never being taken by it. But it has left him with a terrible case of survivor’s guilt. And the desire to tempt fate at every turn, doing dangerous, reckless things to check out his theory of his own invincibility.
For Karom’s dangerous game to end he must reconcile his past in order to embrace his future. But he finds himself stuck between past and present and keeping everyone around him in a holding pattern. This is especially true for his girlfriend Gita, who after three years wishes to take the next step in their relationship but recognizes that Karom can at present only march in place. She talks him into taking a trip to India and that act – along with the wedding of best friend Lloyd – leads Karom to realizations about life, the universe and well – everything.
This story is told in vignettes, with Karom the theme that ties them all together. There is the anecdote of Kamini, Gita’s grandmother, whom Karom and Gita visit on their trip to India. Her odd ritual of entering his room every morning with coffee and perfectly ripe bananas as she murmurs Hindu prayers for him has a profound impact on an important piece of Karom’s journey. Her tale of past and present shows us – and Karom – the importance of letting go so we can move on. Mohan and Rana Seth tell us the intriguing story of Karom’s early years. Karom lets us into his heart – and Gita gives us a tantalizing glimpse of his future if he will just reach out to take it.
The advantage of getting the tale in a series of vignettes is that we can look at a scene from many different angles, giving us glimpses into the significance of a single life. The disadvantage for a reviewer such as myself is that it gives us no definitive story to tell our readers about, it is just a series of impressions each from a different point of view. It works well for this book because while Karom has had many disastrous, unique events occur around him he is in many ways a very average man. It is his ordinariness seen through the lens of those who find him important to their universe that gives us a tale that is both rich in our ability to relate to it and powerful in that it shows the value of one typical person to the people who love them.
The book has its bumps along the road though, and those relate to the style of the narration as well. For example, there is a similarity to the voices of the vignettes which shouldn’t occur given that we are dealing with some truly different characters. And one group of vignettes – those of friend Lloyd – feel almost as though they belong in a different book. They focus more on the friend’s feelings and thoughts than on Karom and they don’t really give us insight into our main character. Any impact this character has on Karom could easily have been dealt with elsewhere, without our having to be taken so far off track.
But those are quibbles. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of a man discovering himself and his place in the universe. It is just light enough to be an excellent beach read for the summer and just profound enough to make you feel that the time spent reading it was time well spent.