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Story Review | A Mistake by Akhil Sharma

Photograph by Gerald Slota

Photograph by Gerald Slota

Akhil Sharma is a native of Delhi, India. He migrated with his family to the United States when he was only eight. His novel Family Life won the 2015 Folio Price for fiction. In one of his interviews, he said that “I don’t know how to have an ordinary life.”

A Mistake is an excerpt from Family Life. The story began as Ajay describes their early migrant life into the United States. From the eyes of an eight-year old boy, this is not merely a change of location, but an overwhelming change of life, including their collective and individual perspectives.

Often, standing in a corner of the asphalt yard, I would think, There has been a mistake. I am good at cricket. I am good at marbles. I am not the sort of boy who is pushed around.

Ajay watchfully described how each of them adopted to these changes, aiming for a better life, while suffering his own growing pains. But no one was prepared when Birju had his accident. No one was prepared for the emotional crisis their family is going to go through from that point on.

The story started with a thick melancholic atmosphere, with a mixture of both confusion and awe. We saw how a child clings to the consistency and resolve of his parents when changes happen. Well into the center, we saw how a family struggles together in the midst of a heart-wrenching tragedy. How each one was desperately grasping for strength from the other, no matter how feeble. You can’t help feeling bad for the characters, especially for little Ajay, who is desperately making sense of what had happened. Suddenly, the family’s aim for a better life seemed a bleak vision.

A little later, when we were about to go back to the hospital, we stood in the driveway in the dark. I looked up at the stars. There were thousands of them, some of them bright, some of them dim. I suddenly had the sense that what was happening was a mistake, that we had been given somebody else’s life.

The sorrow of this story is even more severe learning that this is semi-autobiographical. Ajay’s over-flowing love and attachment with his family, in spite of its brokenness, is the mirror of Akhil Sharma’s feelings. For him, it seems a disloyalty to the family to live a life and know happiness, while the family’s brokenness remains.

We don’t have to be migrants to understand that family life means feeling the collective happiness and sadness. We Filipinos have a saying, “Sakit ng kalingkingan, sakit ng buong katawan.” The pain of the little finger pains the whole body. In concept, what happens in any part of our body, no matter how seemingly small, affects the whole. So, how do we tell Ajay that his life is his own and that he deserves to be happy? How do we tell him that both true happiness and great sorrow can share a spot in our hearts, that time has the power to melt them into one?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Read A Mistake here.

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