“The Lives of Others” by Neel Mukherjee: A Profound Exploration of Family, Society, and Struggle

Published in 2014, “The Lives of Others” is a sweeping and intricately woven novel by Neel Mukherjee that delves deep into the complexities of family dynamics, societal pressures, and the human condition. Set in Kolkata during the late 1960s and early 1970s, against the backdrop of political unrest and social upheaval in India, the novel follows the lives of the Ghosh family as they navigate the challenges of a changing world. In this extensive exploration, we delve into the heart of “The Lives of Others,” examining its themes, characters, and the profound impact it has had on readers.

Plot Summary:

At the center of “The Lives of Others” is the sprawling Ghosh family, whose lives are marked by ambition, desire, and dysfunction. The novel opens with the arrival of Supratik, the youngest son of the Ghosh family, who has abandoned his studies to join the Naxalite movement, a radical leftist insurgency fighting for social justice and equality. As Supratik becomes increasingly involved in the underground resistance, his actions send shockwaves through the family, exposing tensions and fractures that have long simmered beneath the surface.

Meanwhile, back at the family home in Kolkata, Supratik’s absence reverberates through the lives of his relatives, including his parents, Charu and Prafullanath, his grandmother, and his siblings. Each member of the Ghosh family grapples with their own desires, aspirations, and disappointments, as they confront the harsh realities of life in a rapidly changing society.

As the novel unfolds, Mukherjee weaves together multiple narrative threads, shifting between past and present, and offering readers a panoramic view of the Ghosh family’s struggles and triumphs. Through a series of interconnected stories, “The Lives of Others” paints a rich and vivid portrait of life in post-independence India, capturing the hopes, dreams, and contradictions of a nation in transition.

Themes and Motifs:

“The Lives of Others” explores a wide range of themes and motifs, including:

  1. Family Dynamics: At its core, the novel is a deeply intimate and introspective exploration of family relationships, bonds, and betrayals. Mukherjee delves into the complexities of the Ghosh family, exposing the tensions and conflicts that arise when individual desires clash with collective expectations.
  2. Social Injustice: Against the backdrop of political unrest and social inequality in India, “The Lives of Others” examines the impact of systemic injustice and oppression on ordinary people. Mukherjee shines a light on the plight of the marginalized and disenfranchised, highlighting the struggles of those who are often overlooked or forgotten by society.
  3. Identity and Belonging: The characters in the novel grapple with questions of identity, belonging, and self-discovery as they navigate the complexities of their social and cultural milieu. Mukherjee explores the ways in which personal identity is shaped by family, society, and the forces of history, inviting readers to reflect on their own sense of self and place in the world.
  4. Political Ideology: “The Lives of Others” offers a nuanced examination of political ideology and its impact on individual lives. Through the character of Supratik and his involvement in the Naxalite movement, Mukherjee explores the complexities of revolutionary politics, idealism, and the pursuit of social change.
  5. Memory and History: Memory and history play a central role in the narrative, as the characters grapple with the legacy of the past and its implications for the present. Mukherjee skillfully intertwines personal and collective memory, weaving together stories of love, loss, and redemption against the backdrop of India’s tumultuous history.

Character Development:

Mukherjee’s characters are richly drawn and multi-dimensional, each grappling with their own desires, fears, and contradictions. From the idealistic young revolutionary, Supratik, to the matriarchal figure of Charu, to the rebellious and headstrong granddaughter, Bakul, each member of the Ghosh family is brought to life with depth and nuance.

Narrative Style and Structure:

“The Lives of Others” is narrated in the third person, with each chapter focusing on a different character or perspective. Mukherjee’s prose is lyrical and evocative, filled with vivid descriptions and rich imagery that transport readers to the streets of Kolkata and the rural landscapes of West Bengal. The novel’s non-linear structure allows Mukherjee to explore multiple timelines and perspectives, offering readers a kaleidoscopic view of the Ghosh family’s world.

Critical Reception:

“The Lives of Others” received widespread critical acclaim upon its release, earning Mukherjee a nomination for the Man Booker Prize and cementing his reputation as one of the preeminent voices in contemporary Indian literature. Critics praised the novel for its depth, complexity, and profound insight into the human condition. Mukherjee’s ability to capture the intricacies of family relationships, social dynamics, and political upheaval resonated with readers around the world, establishing “The Lives of Others” as a modern classic of Indian literature.


In “The Lives of Others,” Neel Mukherjee has crafted a masterful and deeply affecting portrait of family, society, and struggle in post-independence India. Through its richly drawn characters, evocative prose, and poignant exploration of themes such as identity, injustice, and memory, the novel offers readers a profound meditation on the human experience. Mukherjee’s luminous storytelling and keen insight into the complexities of the human heart make “The Lives of Others” an enduring work of literature that continues to captivate and inspire readers around the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *