“A Family Matter” by Keya Mitra begins when Gapu goes downstairs to find his baby sister in an aquarium. She had just been brought home from the hospital the night before. He can’t comprehend what he is seeing, but the rest of the family is acting like nothing happened. His father, who acts as though the house is under surveillance, continues to make breakfast like Debi isn’t even dead in the aquarium with the fish (who are still alive, whew!). His hands are wet and he makes eggs. Something is obviously wrong but everyone acts okay. Gapu recalls his sister crying all night, waking him up at all hours of the night, a possible motive for her death. He tries to convince himself that the baby in the aquarium is not his sister but it is too quiet and he can’t. At this point, there is no discussion of the dead baby among the family. He recalls his mother finding out that she is pregnant and that it was an “accident”. (It wasn’t an accident). He remembered Deepak being really excited and reassuring the baby and that he made fun of him for loving the baby so much. He contemplated calling the cops and decides against it. He is running late for school and tries to convince his mother to come with him but says no. He and his brother leave for school and his mother says cryptically “this is a family matter”. For the first time, Gapu talks about it and tells his brother that it was probably a doll. On the bus, he sits next to his friend Shannon. He describes what the word “crazy” could mean but it is a way to talk about his father and who his father is as a person. Gapu begins to ask Shannon lots of sketchy questions about babies running away and committing suicide and Shannon gets a little suspicious. He wants to tell Shannon but can’t because of what his mother said. After school, Gapu spends time at Shannon’s house (her mother is an alcoholic but says that she’s not because she drives (just because you can drive after having alcohol doesn’t make you not an alcoholic)). Deepak is with them because Gapu doesn’t want to come home to him dead too. Gapu and Shannon hang out in her room and Shannon tells him about her mother’s alcoholism. Gapu thinks about how he loves Shannon and about Debi and then they find her mother who is talking to Deepak and drunk. They go for a walk with Deepak and walk to a near park. Deepak sits on Gapu’s lap and Gapu promises that they will be fine.
Chronic tension: Debi is killed/ the father is insane
Acute tension: Gapu has to take care of his brother/figuring out what to do about his dead baby sister.
Parallels between Gapu and his father
During the montage of “crazy” descriptions it becomes apparent that the father is completely emotionally repressed and hardly ever expresses himself. This parallels Gapu’s repressed feelings for Shannon and the family’s inability to talk about things. There are so many instances where Gapu wants to comfort his brother and talk about Debi being dead but is unable to do so and there is a moment when Shannon practically invites him to tell her that he loves her and he can’t do it. He also mentions the love that he holds for his brother and how protective he feels over him, but he never vocally mentions it or expresses it until the very end, which leads to:
Gapu and Deepak
This goes with Gapu’s inability to be expressive but I wanted to separate it because their relationship was so important. Gapu held such a love for his brother and a desire to keep him safe, similarly to when he was brought home for the first time. He isn’t able to tell Deepak, but he shows his love in ways like holding his hand and and not letting him go home for fear that he too will end up in the aquarium. The very, very end when Gapu promises to help him get out of that place serves as a tiny beacon of hope for the two brothers and that they might find a better life because Gapu can finally vocalize his feelings.
Mothers in the story
There is the contrast between the two types of mothers.
First there is Deepak and Gapu’s mother, whose only moment of defiance (secretly going off her birth control and having a child) is thwarted by the father’s (probable) murder of said daughter. She is quiet and reserved, and does not make any remarks about the child at all. She remains with her husband who is, if we are meant to believe Gapu’s “crazy” tirade, is kind of insane and unstable.
On the other hand, there is Shannon’s mother who is fairly loud and abrasive. She is a drunk and unable to do well for her daughter, who she is raising alone. So we have these two extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. Both try to do something and fail: Gapu’s mother tries to make herself/her family happy and fails (not her fault unless she is the one who killed Debi) and Shannon’s mother tried to quit drinking (for one day!!!) and can’t do it.
Things to steal:
The story had things that should’ve been a little humorous, like Gapu not being able to jack off or Shannon’s mom excusing her alcoholism because she was still “running a household” (debatable), but they weren’t because there’s just always this dead baby hanging around in the back of the story. I just thought this was really cool.
The contrast between two characters who had no interaction whatsoever was an interesting choice
The story moves really quickly because the character never faces or confronts what the real issues was at the beginning. Deepak and Gapu don’t return home, don’t confront their mother or father, and don’t ever get an answer about Debi.
- Who really killed Debi?
- Were you satisfied with the ambiguous ending? What did it make you think? Do Deepak and Gapu really escape?
- What do you make of the lack of discussion amongst the family?