The life of a teenager isn’t all that rosy. And if you’re bundled into a boarding school and fall into a self-created abyss of destruction, it’s anything but a cakewalk from there. The Sibius Knot (HarperCollins Publishers, 181 Pages, Rs 499), journalist Amrita Tripathi’s second book, is just that—a knot, and a big, entangled one at that. Charting the lives of siblings Amy and Tara and their stepbrother Mario, along with a handful of friends, the book explores the coming of age of young urban Indians. Written in bursts of short, tightly formed sentences, the reader is taken on a journey through a bunch of diary entries, emails and letters—all of them written in first person, allowing you to enter the minds of each protagonist. Amy, who begins the novel, and is a ‘collector of pincodes’, is a self-destructing teenager growing up. She has had self-esteem issues, an abusive boyfriend and even an abortion, the last of which she describes through her acerbic words: “That’s what five grand buys you. Anonymity and a pot in South fucking Delhi”. As a reader, you want Amy to grow up, you want her to realise she needs to get out of the mess she’s creating for herself. And she does, only to realise it’s perhaps too late.
Almost every character has self-esteem and trust issues, taking solace in alcohol, sex, and mushrooms. Each diary entry, email, monologue, so to speak—is a look into the soul of the writer. Amy is the main storyteller, reflecting on her torrid past and how it has led to her predictable downfall. The young protagonists get carried away by the glamorous Mario and spiral down the road of destruction. While some pull themselves up, there are some others who aren’t as lucky. Yet, you feel their pain. It’s like staring into the Pensieve, the basin-like structure from the Harry Potter series, used to review your memories. There’s fear, there’s longing, there’s betrayal, every shred of emotion that can tear you apart and build you into a whole being all over again.
There’s heartbreak and death, and you can’t help but stifle a chuckle when you reach the end and see how Mario describes his own abyss as what makes him part of ‘the 27 club’—a term given to artists who died of an overdose at the terribly young age of 27.
You root for Amy when she redeems herself, when she learns to appreciate her friends, most of whom she has shared a love-hate relationship with. And you finally get what The Sibius Knot is all about. It is not entirely one with the description the book spoon feeds you: “A twisted one-way route to death and the devil”. It’s much more complex. It confuses you, confounds you and ultimately forces you to face your own demons.
The Sibius Knot is just a phase, which will pass as soon as you turn the last leaf of the book, but those hidden devils that everyone carefully buries, will come out to get you—which Amy describes in simple words “Except it’s funny how what you repress comes back to bite you in the ass”. Or when Tara gets all existential in a letter she writes, “It’s almost like the way things end up is the way they’re meant to be”.
One wishes that the book wasn’t such a huge muddled puddle of emotions, or there weren’t such permanently scarred and scathing characters, without some resolution. But this might mean being dishonest to the ‘knot’ and making it a plain old Möbius strip.
Interview: Amrita Tripathi
Why is every character in constant self-destruction mode?
I was very interested in this group of friends, who beyond a time take a life of their own. Everyone is going through a turbulent period of adolescence. Vicariously, we’ve all heard their stories. My generation, which came of age in the 90s, I think we are the first generation that came from broken homes, but had a vocabulary to voice it.
Every character takes over the narrative from time to time, but Amy seems to hold the fort, despite being the most scarred of the lot. Why?
She’s also the only one who tries to redeem her story, and goes from being passive to someone who takes charge of her own life. She knows that in the end, the younger ones like Tara and Dhruv will be okay because they have the right tools.
Mario is a revelation. Why do we see him like that only in the end?
I was quite fascinated with Mario’s point of view, without his voice actually coming in. In a way, he shapes the entire book. While researching for this, I looked at cult leaders and the whole premise of ‘distortion of reality’. One had to see Mario’s point of view in his own voice, and see that he has not really progressed from the mess he created for himself.
When you’re writing extensively about the abysses (of each character), how do you prevent the morbidity from destroying you?
It depends on the perspective we take on things, on how it can influence you. It’s extraordinary to me how fragile relationships are, and you realise this only as you age. You figure out what matters to you and see that everything is just a phase.
In what way is The Sibius Knot a metaphor for India? The Sibius Knot is a metaphor for their own (the protagonists’) condition. It’s about the India of the 90s, where things have changed in the big cities, at least in the last decade. We’re all grappling with so many ideas and identities, that the knot mirrors the turbulence of the transition phase of adolescence.
How do you face your own demons?
You realise that it’s ‘not the worst’ what you’re going through. Writing is therapeutic, which gives you a handle on things. I used to look at reading as a huge escape, and talk to friends who would understand the phase you’re in. Vocalising solves half the problems, but ultimately, you have to battle the demons on your own and carry on with your life.