Review: Nonfiction/Memoir: A Daughter’s Journey into her Father’s Memoir

Silent Life: Memoirs of a Writer by Chaman Nahal

Review: Anita Nahal


Physical journeys, emotional, metaphorical, philosophical and of self-exploration to the point of self-depreciation, journeys that reflect upon the nature of life and humans are spilled over the 286 pages of my father’s gripping memoir, Silent Life. Published in 2005 by Roli Books, the memoir stops when he turns seventy. By his own choosing. He says on page 273, “I was seventy in 1997 and that’s where I want to end… one has to stop somewhere…” We would joke with him that his life had been anything but silent. Over time I comprehended why he selected that title, or that blurry, shadowy image for the cover page. Despite how much we might say, sometimes loudly, or even writing about it strongly, yet at the end of it all, we come and go alone… silently most of the times, even when in physical pain. And then when we are alive, we still seek silence on numerous occasions for varied reasons. It’s the juxtaposition of the universe with humans that confronts us deeply and when we are confused or shocked or numbed, silence takes over. As a writer, our life can be especially alone and silent when searching excruciatingly or embarrassingly for answers to colossal metaphysical questions of ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Where will we go after this life?’ ‘How do we behave so we don’t hurt others?’ My father’s humanism is what shines through like a golden star in his memoir trying to find solutions, mostly withdrawing humbly, in silence! The reality of human limitations, human compulsions, needs and desires, sometimes to our detriment is a recurrent theme in my father’s memoir. However, the return to basics of family, surviving and thriving is also deeply embedded in the book.

I found fascinating how my father weaves daily living with mammoth philosophies and constantly checks himself throughout life, trying to improve upon himself. He would have liked to improve others instead, like we all do, yet he also accepted its impossibility, like we all grudgingly do too! Talking about injustice…individual or collective, promoting fairness, equality and equilibrium in what he saw as wrong and unhinged, plus the duality within himself and most humans also is a constant theme in the memoir. My father travelled extensively in India, the US and to the UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Japan, and Fiji to name a few countries, and his objectivity in speaking about the positives and negatives in different places is refreshingly unrelenting.

My father was a prolific writer with 27 books, and numerous, numerous articles. He would wake up early in the morning, stay up late and find every possible time and opportunity to write down the words jostling to burst out. His most well-known work was his novel, Azadi, on the partition of India. Originally written in English, with the title in Urdu (why that is so is another story!), it was translated into numerous Indian and foreign languages, and became part of many syllabuses in India and abroad. He was awarded the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award for it in 1977 plus other awards later on.

 He called himself a novelist, yet at a plethora of places in the memoir, it reads like a prose poem. His words are lyrical and enchanting. He would often tell me, “I wish I could write poetry like you do.” I would be quick to say, “Oh, you can write anything, you are so good!” And we know as a fact that he had written a long poem on India titled, Bharat, Bharat, Hum Is Ki Santan (India, India, we are its children) for Doordarshan, Delhi which was created into a song by Doordarshan. Sung by Udit Narayan and Vani Jayaram with music composed by Bhajan Sopori, it ran for many years before the evening news. Sadly, the song is not given in the book and I can’t find a copy.  There are a couple of poems strewn around my father’s memoir though. I had forgotten that was the case, and I smiled because my just completed novel is a combination of prose and poetry.

[my father]

My recollections of my father and his remarkable teachings have always remained clear and fresh in my mind. And this honestly written, very readable memoir reminds me that many of my traits, philosophies, mannerisms, and words, and much more comes from him…and my mother. I feel my memoir, whenever I write it, if I do, would have many similarities! 

Bio:  Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a poet, professor, short story writer, flash fictionist, children’s books author, and D&I consultant. Currently she teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Besides academic publications, her creative books include, two volumes of poetry, Hey...Spilt milk is spilt, nothing else (2018) and Initiations (1988), a collection of flash fictions, Life on the go-Flash fictions from New Delhi to America (2018), and three children’s books: I love Mummy and other new nursery rhymesWhen I Grow Up and other new nursery rhymes and The Greedy Green Parrot and Other Stories (1993-1995). Her poems and stories can be found in national and international journals including, Aberration Labyrinth, Better Than Starbucks, Aaduna, River Poets Journal, Colere, Setu, Poetryspective, and in a number of Medium publications in the US, Confluence in the UK, Lapis Lazuli in Asia and The Burrow in Australia. Nahal received an honorable mention in the 2017 Concrete Wolf Chapbook competition. Nahal is co-editor (with Roopali Sircar Gaur) of the anthology, In All The Spaces-Diverse Voices In Global Women's Poetry (2020). She is also a guest contributing editor for aaduna journal and is co-host of the monthly online creative series, Tan Doori Gup Shup. Nahal is the daughter of Indian novelist and professor, Late Dr. Chaman Nahal, and her mother, Late Dr. Sudarshna Nahal was an educationist, author and principal of a K-12 school. Originally from New Delhi, India, Anita Nahal resides in the US. Her family include her son, daughter-in-law and their golden doodle. For more on Anita:

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