Indian-Australian geologist Subhash Jaireth’s After Love, published by Australian press Transit Lounge in 2012, is very different from much contemporary Indian writing. That is, if one could or should call this Indian writing. Jaireth is originally Punjabi, but lived in the USSR for almost a decade in the 1960s and ‘70s, and has lived in Australia since the 1980s. Set primarily in Russia and India, with Italy and Australia also making appearances, After Love is effortlessly cosmopolitan, in a way. It is not diasporic literature in the sense of Jhumpa Lahiri or Bharati Mukherjee, but neither is it really grounded in India.
Jaireth’s Russian connection is largely responsible for this uniqueness in tone, I would say. I attended Canberra’s Asia Bookroom’s discussion between the author and Claudia Hyles in November 2012. Jaireth said that as a young Punjabi student in Moscow in the 1960s, Russia seemed like a wonderful paradise: the people were friendly and welcoming, the food was cheap, cultural events were of high quality and accessible, healthcare and education were free. He touched upon the flipside of these positives—the lack of freedom of thought, speech and association, and this also features in the novel—but one got the impression that Jaireth still holds an overwhelming affection for the place he lived for so long, however changed it may now be. As Hyles commented, nine years is a lifetime.
After Love revolves around Vasu, an Indian student of architecture in Moscow, and Anna, his Russian wife. We see less of their courtship and love than we do of their lives parting. Hyles asked Jaireth about the title: should it be read as “in the pursuit of love”, or rather “once love has ceased”. The author commented that he had not considered the first meaning at all, that he had in fact meant the latter. What fills life once love has departed, love for a woman, or a place. But having read After Love, I think the former, rather more optimistic interpretation, should also be considered. Their wants and needs take them in different directions, they realise that their expectations of each other are too incompatible, but once their love for each other has dissipated, after love, they pursue love in different forms, in other avenues. Their lives are not devoid of love once their marriage ends.
Jaireth emphasised that the character of Vasu was not based upon himself, though there are some immediate parallels. Vasu was inspired by the author’s own experiences, but does not mirror them. Jaireth’s other interests also underpin much of the novel, particularly music and archaeology. It is a very rich and intricate novel, deceptively measured on the surface, but harbouring immense emotional tension and passion. I hope that this beautiful book is made available to readers outside of Australia, because it adds a unique voice and style to contemporary South Asian writing.