Grief is a universal human phenomenon, something that each one of is likely to come face to face with at some point in our lives. But what is it really? A feeling, a way of being, a reaction, a strategy? Can grief be studied and mapped? Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao delves into these questions in the wake of a tragedy that left hundreds bereft:
[On 23 June 1985] an Air India flight between Montreal and New Delhi via London was bombed out of the sky over Irish waters. More than 300 people died, mostly Canadian citizens of Indian origin…. What followed was two decades of investigative and legal bumbling and hand-wringing. The Khalistani militant group Babbar Khalsa were deemed responsible for the bombing, ostensibly as revenge for Indira Gandhi’s Operation Blue Star. The Canadian authorities, accused of ignoring warning signs, tried to wash their hands of the incident, calling it an ‘Indian’ tragedy, even though that was not how Canadians, including Indian-Canadians, saw it. Investigations culminated almost two decades later in what was Canada’s most expensive trial. However, in the 2005 trial, where the novel’s timeline culminates, no one was found guilty.
Twenty years after the incident, an Indian psychologist called Ashwin Rao embarks on a study of the families of the victims, intending to find out what happens to those who get left behind. But his interest isn’t merely academic, for he too is one of those who got left behind.