Thursday, November 3, 2016

KR Meera's The Gospel of Yudas: A gripping, disturbing portrayal of the Naxalite movement during Emergency in Kerala

Winter mornings are great to read gripping novels that explore the heart's longing for the forbidden, but you need the comfort of a warm sweater, an inviting quilt and a cozy bed to snuggle into. 

And lots of chai - piping hot, laced with a dash of cardamom.

That is how I read the first sentence of KR Meera's novel, The Gospel of Yudas, translated by Rajesh Rajamohan, and the sentence simply leapt  into my consciousness as I read the words, "A traitor can never sleep. His hunger is eternal; his thirst, insatiable."

I HAVE to say this: This blurb took my breath away - the different shades of green-blue tones and the sinking girl evoked strong emotions even before I touched the first page.




And you feel a spark of rebellion stem from within when you read poignant sentences like this, "In our lake, dead bodies raced among themselves daily to find their way to the surface," and "In our feudal home - our Naalukettu - before I went to sleep in my room under the yellowed ceiling made of Anjiliwood, I'd chant silently 'Naxalbari Zindabad!'

The story of the hero, is narrated through Prema, a retired policeman's daughter who is infatuated with Yudas, a man whose existence is all about diving into lakes and river bodies to retrieve corpses. 

The  novel is constructed around Prema's dangerous obsession with Yudas, who is still grieving over his betrayal of the woman he loved - Sunanda. This leads Prema to undertake an intense exploration of his past, blending with it all the elements of a bittersweet love tragedy, neither page turning nor sensual, but deeply moving. 

One of the most impressive aspects of this book is that within the hidden layers of human behavior, more is revealed about what the Emergency did to change human nature, turning it into something  darker than we can ever imagine and how those people caught in its warp try to snap out of it but remain stuck, unable to pierce beyond the damage that the era has wrought on them.

We are perplexed by the questions that Yudas and Prema inject into our minds as they dive deep within their own seas asking-  What is it about fear that causes people to betray those whom they love?

Prema's self-inflicted confusion is consistent and comes through more strongly than the author may have intended. It is made bare for us to see when she meets Sangeeta, who tells her, "I am not scared, sister. Don't I have the blood of Sunanda and my grandfather coursing through me?" 

The emotion this statement triggers in Prema makes her vulnerable and strong at the same time, as she reels under its impact, "I was speechless. Rage surged inside me...Sunanda was always ahead of me."

This 'Prema-moment' feels like the ultimate moment of truth and betrayal.

KR Meera's novel, The Gospel of Yudas, offers no answers but it is dark and brilliant in a way that intensely grips your mind, word by word, para by para and page by page. 

Prema's obsession throws into your face the bleak truth of what happens to human beings when they are forced to conform with laws imposed on them by an authoritarian State, where brutality becomes a way of preserving the draconian laws.

The way this book ends turned out to be slightly disappointing for me. I had expected something very unpredictable, as KR Meera had done in The Hangwoman. But that didn't happen with this latest novel on Yudas

[MUST READ: How the Hangwoman Swept Me off my feet ]

And if you liked reading this book review, do check some of the other books that caught my interest:

1. The Other Woman in Your Marriage
2. The Nambisan Novels
3. Daughter by Court Order 
4. Custody
5. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Summing up, KR Meera's "Gospel of Judas" is a short, gripping book that has much to say about how the Emergency messed up many lives in Kerala.

Now, it's your turn to tell me - What's on top of your reading list this winter? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Vidyarambham: How and why Malayalis celebrate writing the words ''Harisree Ganapathaye Namaha"

For Malayalis, Vidyarambham is an auspicious day on which the elders and children mark the day by writing the sacred words, "Harisree Ganapathayeh Namaha." The observance of this ritual may differ from region to region, community to community and family to family. Whatever I share here is based on how vidyarambham is celebrated in my home. 

Vidyarambham: How Malayalis observe this sacred day

In families where the children are gearing up to enter pre-school or play school and are not yet ready to join the formal schooling system, Vidyarambham marks an important occasion for an elder to introduce them to the world of "vidya" or "knowledge." The words ''Harisree Ganapathayeh Namaha" are written on the child's tongue by the grandparent, an elder or parent.  

                                     [Image credit: Travel Manorama Online ]

Vidyarambham: Why it matters 


An interesting aspect of Vidyarambham ceremony lies in the relationship with the person who is marking the words for the first time on the child's tongue. That person will always have a symbolic importance in the child's life.  For instance, children who have had their Vidyarambham conducted by my father tend to seek his blessings when they get a new job or something auspicious happens in their life. The relationship is considered sacred and lasts a lifetime, which is why in most families the ceremony is conducted by a grandparent or the parent.


Nowadays, many Malayalam TV channels also report that Churches are conducting this ceremony in their unique way. 

Vidyarambham: What's so nostalgic about it?

Vidyarambham is also a special "bonding" day when we hold our little ones close to our hearts, seat them beside us and we hold their fingers in our own. We know that we cannot control their destiny but can only guide them as far as they are willing to let us do so. In a small plate or vessel filled with raw rice grains, a dash of turmeric and kumkum, we put their little fingers into it and they are as delighted as we are, to feel this unique experience, to set in motion a different feel and energy into the many tiny grains of rice beneath their fingers.

Then we whisper and make them write,"Hari sree ganapathayeh namaha."

On this auspicious day, we teach our children to always invoke the divine energy within us to add grace to our efforts and bless us with the results that we aspire to attain. 

As I held my son's fingers in mine and wrote in Malayalam, "Hari Sree Ganapathayeh Namaha," I felt like a child.

As though I had stepped back in time, my parents' embrace held me close, their fingers holding mine as they taught me to write. 

Vidyarambham is such a beautiful experience and every Malayali knows how humbling and strangely empowering it feels. 

Perhaps the quest for knowledge begins here - in knowing and recognizing - there is a vast Universe to make sense of, a greater Divine energy that propels us to attain everything we aim to grasp and accompanied by an awareness that we have a long, long way to go before we can finally say, "Been there, done that. I know it all."

Now it's your turn - how do you celebrate Navarathri? Do you have special traditions and customs in your family just like the one that I have shared?

I'd love to know about it. Do write in!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A little boy always pops into my heart

A little boy always pops into my heart - he has shining eyes, a bubbly smile and laughter that is almost melodious and lyrical. I can close my eyes and see his face burst into smiles. He's a miniature "me" - so to speak. And maybe that's why I adore him more than words can express.

A few months ago, a senior Seva Dal in Puttaparthi had the most surprised look on his face when he saw a little boy called Vihaan Rajit remove his sandals carefully before entering the room, do a full padanamaskar in front of Swami's portrait and then come to answer questions related to his identity and passport. He bowed to the Seva Dal with a bright smile, his hands folded in namaskar, saying:  Sai Ram.

The Seva Dal turned to my father and asked, "He's your grandson from Sydney?"

When my father nodded, the Seva Dal looked stunned and he said, "We rarely find our kids show humility or respect to elders these days." 

I told you guys - he's "miniature me"! Okay, I better not irritate my sis....

Vihaan Rajit turned 7 years old last week. How quickly he has grown up!



Vihaan is my sister's son. We like to call him the ''little poojari" because he likes to take charge of ''pujas" at home, chants mantras and sings bhajans almost effortlessly. He loves the certainty of rituals just as he loves sports and swimming. Every evening, when he wraps up his prayers, he distributes vibhuti with the solemnity of a real life priest. He's serious and sincere about his prayers and fun loving by nature. And he loves his french fries and pancakes like kids usually do. That sounds like me by the way.....*grins*

It's quite an experience of sorts when Adi and Vihaan get together. They are up to all kinds of pranks. Vihaan adores "Adi chetta" and tries to do everything he does.   When he was a toddler, he first began to crawl up the stairs in my parents' home when he saw that Adi can easily climb the stairs!
He also tried using Adi's tricycle for the first time and the two had quite a "It's mine, it's mine" tussle around it. As kids do, they both wanted to use it at the same time! 

I recall an instance when an older kid told Adi, "Lets go out to play but leave him behind...."

Adi's reply was instant, "I can't do that. He is my younger brother."

Whenever I recall this, I say a silent prayer to the Almighty: May this always be. Let this love not lessen or change.

They always hug each other tightly and sleep. And when one of them has to go somewhere or be apart, the other one cries, mopes around and doesn't even eat properly or watch cartoons.
If you ask , "Are you missing your brother?," you receive a noncommittal, boyish reply which means nothing and can mean everything if you choose to interpret it. 

Guys, i tell you! Why can't they loosen up a bit at least with moms? 
The moment the other returns, all hell breaks loose and there's madness all around that you wish for some peace and silence once again.

A few months ago when we were sitting together in Prashanti Nilayam, Vihaan asked me a question: "Do you love me or Adichetta?"

I like to tease Vihaan a bit so I asked him, "Well, you know the answer. So, what do you think?"

He gave me that super sweet smile and said, "I know you love us both equally."

Another amazing thing is the effort he takes to win over people's trust and love! He doesn't hesitate to call Sanand and chat with him like for 45 mins at a stretch! When Sanand and Vihaan hang out together, everyone else have to take a step back because the two guys get along so well and just leave out the rest of us!

The sweetest conversation I've heard between Vihaan and Sanand was when Aishani - my sister's daughter - was born. A thrilled Adi told Sanand on the phone, "She's my carbon copy, Acha. If you compare her baby pics with mine, you will think we are the same."

Immediately, little Vihaan takes the phone from Adi and tells Sanand, "Actually Valiyachaa, she's my carbon copy too...you have to believe me..."

Whenever I think of my boy Vihaan, my world feels whole and perfect. He makes me feel that I have one more son to treasure and a rich new world of sparkling laughter and innocence that I can look forward to. 
The power of love is strongest when it comes from the heart, untainted by expectations or desires. And when such love begins with you, that makes you the richest person in the world.

Trust me, that's how I feel - because of my two boys - Jyotiraditya and Vihaan.  

They are my world. And I love them both. Equally.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Say a little prayer for me in the language of love

Recently, I saw the blurb of a book which asked, "How many of you (Hindus) have seen the inside of a Muslim home and how many of you (Muslims) have seen the inside of a Hindu home?" The question provoked a spark of anger in me because I do not view relationships through the prism of caste, community or religion.

However, I understand what the distinguished writer was trying to say - we are so insulated in our ways that even when we talk about tolerance, we still don't dare step beyond the boundaries of our community, caste or religion. 

When I say this in North India, I am told, "You have only read about Partition. You haven't lost a family member or seen a tragedy unfold before your eyes - it's easy for you to talk like this." Maybe...

However, one of the many advantages of having grown up outside India and then during my teens, in Kerala, is that I never learned the social distinction between "Hindus"and "Muslims." There was never "we" versus "them" debate - it was always "we."  It didn't ever matter that we had different names for Gods or for our beliefs. 



My father is a doctor. A majority of his patients are from the Muslim community. Whenever there is an occasion in our home and prasad is distributed to everyone, no one refuses and if they have, my father would not take offence. Once I asked my father, "What is the saddest moment in your life which you wish you could change?" 

His reply was, "My best friend Dr. Moideen had to stand outside a temple for my marriage because he is a non Hindu and cannot enter - but I had told him to come in because it doesn't make a difference to me. He said no, this is not about you and me - it is about faith and I cannot disrespect or dishonor your faith."

Today, when I see my Facebook timelines filled with angry posts from Malayalis ranting for or against beef, hitting out at each other's religions and the beliefs, I find myself longing for the bygone era when a Dr. Raghu and a Dr. Moideen could eat their meals together, their wives could cook whatever they wanted without worrying about the different names of God or the beliefs they personally held on to. 

It was the same in Africa, where the Asian community always stood together. The Indians, the Pakistanis and the Sri Lankans were one people, alienated from their homes and cultures and therefore, more loving and welcoming in celebrating unity in diversity.

When my mother and I first joined my father in Africa, we were first welcomed to the new country by Mohammed uncle, a Pakistani. 

A lovely meal was prepared by his wife and we stayed there for a day till we could shift to our new home. Even after we shifted to our new home, the two families remained close and always invited one another to celebrate important occasions. This meant that Eid was celebrated in Mohammed uncle's home with his family and Onam and Vishu were celebrated in our home with his family. 

There was never a talk of "Hindus" or "Muslims" and yet there was always warm understanding. Aunty took care not to serve beef to my family when we were invited to their home and my mother took care to make sure there were several non vegetarian dishes when they were invited. 

In Africa, where we lived, I would head out to Kasim Uncle's home where I spent time with his daughter. Kasim uncle, a Pakistani, was one of our dearest friends till we left the country. 

That reminds me of something very tiny but significant. 

Months ago, I received a WhatsApp message from a friend who wrote to me from a Gulf nation. It read like this: " Just wanted to let you know that the gift you had sent is special to us. My mother uses the prayer mat daily, the one that you gifted. In our daily prayers, we pray for the well being of your family too."

This message warmed my heart and restores my faith in myself. 

Continents away, religions apart, there is a family that remembers me in their prayers. We have different paths that we believe in. Our gods have different names and so have the holy books we follow. 

Whenever I see angry posts on my Facebook timeline, people hitting out and accusing each other in the name of religion, I remember this friend, whose family prays to a different God in a different way but they find it in their hearts to include me in their prayers.

Can we look deep within ourselves, look beyond our prejudices, nurture love and trust each other despite our differences once again?

That, to me, is the essence of God, religion and prayer.

And when you do pray, say a little prayer for me.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Love letters and romantic writing: The world needs more of them

This weekend, I began reading a book that I could not put down. The title is 'The Love Letter and other stories' by Buddhadeva Bose and translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

Each story takes you back to a bygone era when love was communicated through glances and love letters.

Remember, one-way love? You love some one but the person doesn't recognize it. There is a real-life quaintness, an old fashioned charm that breathes life into every story.




I was spell bound. Here's one excerpt from the book:

"...A letter is a woman on a tryst, a veiled lover, mysterious but guileless... How often do secrets and whispers come to us in our lives? But whenever a letter comes, it is always in secret. When it speaks, it is in our ears. A letter is as intimate as a kiss; but a kiss, even the longest kiss does end; the same kiss does not offer itself twice. The letter remains; it can be reread, regained, it is never lost, never finished...."

This world, I believe, needs more of these magical romantic writings.
Have you ever read a love letter that made your heart race?  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

'James and Alice' movie review: Brilliant performances by Prithviraj and Vedhika, 5 things to know

Sujiith Vaasudev has many fantastic movies to his credit, as a cinematographer. His cinematography is refreshingly different and you would know what I mean if you check out his work in the following films: Drishyam, 7th Day, Memories, Anarkali among many others.

With 'James and Alice',  Sujiith Vaasudev makes an impressive entry as a director in Malayalam cinema. Here are 5 things to know about the movie 'James and Alice':


'James and Alice' movie review: A solid story narrated in a refreshing way

'James and Alice' is not just a love story. You have a solid script and a refreshing format that takes every scene in this movie from strength to strength. 

James (starring Prithviraj) is a struggling, but talented painter-turned-ad maker who is married to Alice, the daughter of a rich NRI. They fall in love and tie the knot against the wishes of her NRI father (starring Sai Kumar).

So far, it's nothing new. But wait - it's not what you think it is. 

The story of James and Alice is played out in a realistic way and perhaps unparalleled in Malayalam cinema where a love story is brought through to its most important scenes with a hero inhabiting Heaven instead of earth. 

While a comparison seems unfair at this point, especially as this is Sujiith Vaasudev 's debut direction, I would say that it is perhaps only the veteran Director Padmarajan who has successfully pulled off something on these lines in his film 'Njaan Gandharvan'. Still, the director didn't risk transforming a hero to becoming an inhabitant of a heavenly abode - he did the opposite, which is somewhat still more believable because of the strong mythological ethos that we as Indians are familiar with.

Sujiith Vaasudev has crafted every scene in this film with painstaking attention to the finest nuances and details of what happens when two people fall in love and later, perhaps, out of it.

'James and Alice' movie review: Brilliant performances by Prithviraj and Vedhika

Prithviraj is brilliant as James. He reveals different facets to his personality as a man in love, a husband who is struggling to keep the family financially sound and as a father. Vedhika's graceful yet vulnerable demeanor brings strength to every scene of conflict throughout this movie. From the first scene till the last, the two actors effortlessly bring out the grey, difficult-to-like shades in 'James and Alice' in a powerful way.  Also, I liked the fact that the story does not give either James or Alice more weightage. It lets you witness their turbulent moments so that you can examine your own as a witness, which makes the impact of this story telling more realistic and unique.

'James and Alice' movie review: Breaking stereotypes in relationships
I  liked how relationships are played out in this movie. For example, the realistic portrayal of James' friendship with his lady colleague. It is a fact of life that more men and women colleagues share their thoughts and vulnerabilities with each other more clearly than with their spouses. 

In several scenes, James reveals his innermost thoughts, almost personal secrets, to his female colleague and she understands his struggles better than his wife. There is a scene where James shows her the room that he has converted into his personal sanctuary and the moments are intense, building up inch by inch, because of what he reveals, I almost expected a love scene to play out.

It didn't. I was stumped. Respect!

What evoked my respect is how realistically and respectably their friendship is depicted - a rarity in Malayalam cinema - it is platonic and sincere, paving the way for a thought to emerge that "Friendship between men and women at the workplace can be a productive process, not one that is fraught with the danger of turning romantic." 

Remember, the Malayalam movie 'Cocktail' starring Jayasurya, Anoop Menon and Samvrutha. My problem with the movie, brilliant though it was, is it takes a very objectified approach to the working woman. It plays to the gallery and a mistaken male perception that women who work are not always moral in their interactions. 

'James and Alice' movie review: Music by Gopi Sundar
Most Malayalis love the rains. I am certain that you will love the song ''Mazhaye" in this movie. It is soothing and so lyrical to just listen to. 

'James and Alice' movie review: Magical cinematography
You will love the cinematography in this movie. The scene that totally caught my breath into a state of utter stillness and fascination was - where an accident plays out. How can you possibly create a magical, cinematographic effect in a car crash scene? 

Well,  Sujiith Vaasudev pulls it off effortlessly.



If I had to sum up this movie, here's what I would say:

When you place ice in a bowl of water, it melts spontaneously. That's what happens when you place love in a relationship. There is a natural, effortless harmony, a merging of thought, word and deed. There is a a realization of oneness that overcomes the conflict of egos and duality. This is what makes love so elusive. Few find can that tuning in, that harmony to keep a relationship going. That's what James and Alice is all about. 

Go watch this in movie theaters - or you will miss the magic of a brilliantly directed movie!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How to start your day happy in 7 easy steps

I love to start my day with a smile. So, I have a couple of happiness routines that I like to follow. 
Sit up. Pause. Contemplate.
The first thing that I do is I sit up, slowly and close my eyes, hold my palms up with love and gratitude as "Namaskar" to my Guru. 
Express gratitude. Thank Earth.
Before I step on the ground with my feet, I bend down and ask forgiveness and loving energy from Mother Earth for trampling on her all day. I convey my gratitude that the ground beneath my feet keeps me and my loved ones safe.

Sing a song over a cup of tea
And while I brew tea, I sing kirtans. If I don't sing kirtans, I play it on my phone so that the energy stays divine and hopefully, seeps into my first cup of tea. 
Rewind to the 80s' childhood days.
When I was growing up, I always woke up to a very cheerful, energized home environment.  My mother would be in the kitchen, cooking a nutritious breakfast and supervising every little detail - whether my dad's shirt was ironed, whether we as kids had packed our school bags properly, and so on. 
Play some music
The early morning ''suprabhatam" by MS Subbhalakshmi would be playing in the background, followed by my grandmother's favorite song 'Vadakkumnathaa sarvam nadakum nathaa' by Kerala's 'Gaana Gandharvan' Dr. K J Yeshudas.  
Choose to be happy
My parents had their share of struggles and troubles like every one else but the mornings in my home did not reflect that. I realize now how lucky I am to have parents who chose to be happy no matter what the difficulties are. 
There was more laughter, smiles and hugs in my home that played out more often than the music. It was beautiful. The problem was that I felt so happy at home that I didn't want to go to school.
We didn't have a luxurious life nor did we lack the comforts of a good life. But we were happy.
Set little reminder notes or quotes to stay happy
Today, like many working mothers, I don't always wake up with a smile. There is a ''things to do before I leave for work"list that plays a cat-and-mouse game in my head. But I try to stay in a realm of higher awareness till I set off for work. 
On difficult days, I fall back on my favorite notes. These are usually hand written quotes that I read somewhere and I would have scribbled it down. These always perk me up. I have stacks of such little notebooks at home. So, no worries about getting bored of the same set of quotes.
 Start the day with a big smile
I think the best gift that we can give ourselves and our families is to start the day with a big smile, lots of positive energy and create an inner setting that enables all of us to sail into the day,  with starry eyes. 
My gut feel is that when we consciously bring a 'happy morning' ritual into our life, it can boost our productivity, make it fun and we feel happier at the end of the day.
Life is full of uncertainties but when we are able to transmit energy waves of joy, it will inspire our children to excel at what they set out to do and perhaps some day, they may pass on the same "happiness"routine to their children too.
What's your happiness routine? I would love to hear about it - do drop a line and inspire me. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Stepping out of the comfort zone

The year began with a visit to Lord Tirupati Balaji, the Kalahasthi temple, followed by three unforgettable days in my favorite place - Puttaparthi. 

When I returned from the trip, it felt as though something had already changed within me - as though an important decision was being shaped by the Universe or a Higher force. 

But of course, I didn't realize it then, nor was I meant to. That hit me later.

I returned to my place of work, happily. Within a month, there were all the signs of a new beginning, literally. I stepped down from my comfort zone.

                                                                                                            (Image credit: Unsplash)
It wasn't easy for me to do. I was too comfortable in my job and within the space that I had created for myself.

Maybe the Rig Vedic mantras had done the magic, pushed me out of my comfort zone and propelled me to take a risk and to simply find the courage to grow up. [[Do read! Quiet: The POWER of Introverts and STRONG is the new Beautiful]

Yes, I quit my job. A good, comfortable job. [Do read: Hope is sometimes a crumb]

The most important thing is this: I am happy. [READ: Never, ever GIVE UP!]

That's all that matters, isn't it?

Now it's your turn: Have you ever done anything that made you wonder why you were stepping out of your comfort zone? Do you remember the feeling of release and lightness within that comes with letting go?

Write in to me. I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Book Review: Pervin Saket's novel 'Urmila' is a beautifully crafted, compelling story that you must read

At 4 AM, I almost fell asleep at the New Delhi airport while waiting for my flight to Bangalore. This is when Pervin Saket’s novel titled ‘Urmila’ caught my eye.

I was suddenly wide awake.

I was glued to the book ‘Urmila’ right from the moment I found my seat.

Pervin Saket’s novel ‘Urmila’ makes the reader pause and wonder after every chapter, “What’s going through Urmila’s mind now? What will happen next?”



Here’s a sentence that I particularly loved:

The moment a desire dies is a sharp one. As pointed as the splutter of a mustard seed, as shrill as a whine, as heavy as a star on a clear night.

Here’s another one:

Marriage is an act of balance. On the one hand, you feel right about something and you make a decision. On the other hand, once you decide, you make it right.

‘Urmila’ is a contemporary take on a woman’s inner journey and the physical experience of a loveless marriage, where her spouse is more devoted to his sibling.  The author has maintained a fine balance between delicacy and boldness in her crafting of the protagonists and the situations they undergo. More importantly, she has balanced it out in a way that even strong willed believers are not likely to call this a ‘blasphemous’ novel. 

The creative camouflage is brilliant.

Urmila’s strong willed personality shines throughout the book. 

Some excerpts that will connect you to Urmila's life:
         
Our house never saw roses or greeting cards, never knew the spark of a finger against a cheek, or the whiff of musky cologne. My mother never wore chiffon sarees and my father never seemed to notice the rustle of her clothes. In our tiny 1BHK, I slept between my parents every night.

At mealtimes, the bulky pressure cooker and aluminium pan were plonked on the dining table since serving bowls were wasteful. Old saris were made into quilts and pillow covers, new ones were wrapped away for special occasions that never came. Empty milk satchets were washed and Baba took rotis and sandwiches in them to office; all the offers on the cling-wraps and aluminium foils of the world could not tempt Baba.

How can we imagine Urmila’s life without the proverbial ‘Sita’? 

We are introduced to her cousin, Vani.

"Since the day Vani stepped into our lives, she maintained an air of being wounded. She was a victim in a world so cruel that it wouldn’t even afford her a culprit. It was in her stars, she demonstrated with each shrug and sigh. She was supposed to be one in a thousand who would carry the misfortunes of humanity on her shoulders...When she enthusiastically offered four different kinds of parathas for breakfast, it was the reflection of a wonderful person in a demanding set up....Puru had a thing for victims. He was privileged and didn’t know how to handle it in a world of sufferers. He was always petting stray dogs, packing extra vegetable rolls for beggars, installing more bird feeders around the housing society, coaxing the milkman’s son to appear for various entrance exams.....”

“Vani gnawed her way into our family, making herself indispensable to its stability. Perhaps it was her way of ensuring a place in a world that wanted to keep her at bay. No task was too big, no load too heavy, no food too complex, no shop too far, no night too late...Increasingly, she took over the kitchen.

Like every Indian girl, Urmila approaches marriage with anticipation but her cousin Vani steals the thunder. The family she marries into brings another set of social challenges that she has to tackle. None of this is as daunting as her husband’s indifference to her. Nothing she does pleases her no matter how hard she works in the kitchen.

An excerpt:

“I realized soon that my banter put him off. He liked me receded and ebbed. He liked me as a backdrop, beautiful and unobtrusive. My sight was too loud, my clothes too bright, my hair too untamed, my laughter too quick. I had to learn restraint...

“...he lived in the shadow of his older brother, and secretly preferred it that way. He was fixated with Puru in a manner that everyone else labelled ‘adulatory’ or ‘devotional’, but I saw through the euphemism. In truth, it was a baggage – a parasitic attachment. The filial blood didn’t just hold them together. It walled my husband from others. His conviction about Vani’s virtues was based on an irrefutable logic – she was attached to Puru, and hence embodied an extension of all his goodness....He only registered that Puru had chosen her, and so she was blameless. The higher she floated towards the realms of goodness, the more I was pushed down in Shree’s perception.

The turning point in Urmila’s life is when her husband leaves her, following the footsteps of his older sibling. Urmila sets off on a path of self-inquiry and in art, she find the ultimate solace.

Will Shree return to Urmila? Will they enjoy a happy married life? What about their children?

There are other disturbing questions the story of Urmila explores:
  • A woman who is abandoned by her husband – how does the society treat her? 
  • What social pretences continue to force her to appear and behave like a ‘married’ woman when she’s living single?
The characters of Puru, Vani and Shree come to life very briefly, but in a very unconvincing way that deflates a reader’s emotional engagement with them. As a reader, I would have liked to read more about their version of the story. Each version could have added a different layer to the one-sided portrayal of a failed marriage.

Excavating the inner journey of a woman who has been treated with indifference by her husband, Urmila brings to life a novel that explores a woman’s right to feel discontent with her married life and to pursue  happiness in a separate journey, in the way that she believes is right.

Urmila is a book that you MUST read.

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