On June 23, 1985, an Air India Boeing 747-237B operating on the Montreal-London-Delhi route was blown up by a bomb at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 m).
It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while in Irish airspace. It was the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet. A total of 329 people were killed, including 268 Canadians, 27 British citizens and 24 Indians. The majority of the victims were Canadians of Indian ancestry. The incident was the largest mass murder in Canadian history,
Who were these people who were on board the 747 jumbo jet? Who were their families? How did they cope a loss so personal, so tragic?
In her new novel The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, Padma Viswanathan explores the stories that weren’t told.
It is 2004. Almost 20 years after the brutal bombing and two suspects are on trial. Ashwin Rao, an Indian psychologist trained in Canada, returns to Canada to do a study on comparative grief, interviewing people who lost a loved on in the Air India bombing. What he neglects to mention is that he too had family members on the plane.
As he interviews the families, he becomes embroiled in the lives of one family caught in the undertow of the tragedy. In the process, he is forced to deal with his own emotional turmoil.
Padma Viswanathan is a Canadian playwright and fiction writer, and in The Ever After of Ashwin Rao does a phenomenal job covering the multiple layers of grief, and manages to take us on the its long winding path to recovery.
In addition to bringing a human side to a historical disaster, which is the author’s strength in her publication, we have in The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, Padma Viswanathan’s (perhaps) audacious attempt to tackle issues of societal change: identity and one’s place in the social fabric; the baggage of colonialism; class divisions that refuse to wither away; bringing the conflicts of the past into the present and into a new homeland; and what does it mean to be a “Canadian” when the immediate marker of skin colour marks one perceived as “the other.”
The story starts off with strong momentum, but just like a plane on a trajectory that is overly ambitious it feels like it may stall halfway. In the same vein one can be critical in surmising that The Ever After of Ashwin Rao is on its own flight of Icarus in attempting to touch upon ideas beyond the scope of the book’s strengths –that characters and their stories – however, in the light of the recent plane crash in Malaysia, the story and the sorrows become resoundingly relatable to us once more, despite a tragedy that occurred over almost three decades ago.