Skip to main content

A Book Review: Custody by Manju Kapur


Manju Kapur's fifth novel – following her highly acclaimed works such as Difficult Daughters (1998) and The Immigrant (2009) – explores the tumultous relationships once again set in the thriving, upper-middle-class colonies of Delhi in the mid-90s. The story thrives against the backdrop of the initial surge of foreign investment in India. The very first chapter of the book begins to enthrall a reader with the couple's love making scene. 

The only glitch is this: it is a married woman having a romantic adventure with her husband's boss. Cheesy as it may seem, the book sets itself apart by diving straight into the troubled waters yet without taking any sides, revealing once again the mark of a true family writer.



Extramarital affair breaks a solid marriage
Shagun, the green-eyed beautiful wife of Raman, falls in love with his charismatic, handsome boss Ashok Khanna, who has never been in love before and is determined to possess the woman he now loves. It does not matter to him how but he goes about conquering Shagun's mind, body and soul like a seasoned, persuasive marketer. He represents everything that a woman of today would find difficult to resist. 

The pace of the story gains momentum as their affair begins to become more fiery, daring and passionate. Shagun has no regrets about lying to her husband or to her own mother. The extent of her selfishness and ability to be cruel is visible in the choices she makes. For example, she leaves her kids with her mother to go off for weekend trysts with her new found lover. Yet she convinces herself all the time that she is a devoted mother to  her children. In fact, she goes to all lengths to brainwash her children against their own father, knowing that this would be of use to her to negotiate her terms of divorce when it is finally time. 

Although the book never tips into preaching morals, it’s precisely at such critical, emotion-packed moments that the story skirts closest to the society's traditional norms and conventions. Manju Kapur demonstrates her intrinsic level of detailing with tiny social observations such as how Shagun's mother does her best to coax her to remain faithful to her husband and in retaliation, Shagun threatens to completely stop confiding in her mother if this is how she is going to take sides. 

Meanwhile, Raman, who is a sincere, hard working man and a thoroughly devoted husband, struggles to understand what is going wrong in his relationship with Shagun. He adores her but he is puzzled when nothing he says or does seems to please his beautiful wife. But finally when he discovers the truth, the devastation he experiences is just a tip of a massive legal iceberg. 

Indian Law and Tangled Lives
Their lives are catapulted and crushed by the ever slow, grinding wheels of the rigid legal system in India. This is when the quiet, reliable cousin Nandan steps in to help Raman who is totally clueless about how the legal system works in India. Worst of all, he begins to realize that marriage to Shagun whom he had loved blindly had been a big mistake, one for which his children too would pay a heavy price. Who will get custody of the kids - that becomes the question for Raman and Shagun? Their legal battle turns inevitably ugly.

While the parents are embroiled in a legal battle for custody of the children, they do everything they can to make the children feel worse. Their son is a replica of Shagun - selfish, cruel and indifferent to anything but his own satisfaction and their daughter is a miniature of Raman, who is very loving, understanding and generous. The children find their own ways to tackle the crisis because they are confused and feel divided loyalties swarm around them, throwing them into tough, emotionally disturbing situations with their parents. And for any child, having to choose between parents is the toughest and most emotionally devastating thing to contend with.   

How In-laws in India treat a woman who cannot conceive
As a parallel story, the plot swerves to capture the troubles of Ishita, who is the daughter of Raman's mother's dear friend and neighbor. Reflecting the dismal marriage scenario that prevails in most middle class Indian families, Ishita's problems begin when she is unable to conceive. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law who doted on her and acted as though they were all dear friends changed overnight when they realize that Ishita is medically pronounced as unable to have children. 

Without being judgmental or preachy, Manju Kapur conveys the typical middle class mentality of Indian families, particularly in tackling situations like this. The well-knit story reveals the layers of dirt that are hidden behind the 'happy family' syndrome among middle class families. An example: Ishita's mother-in-law holds detailed discussions with the doctor to dig deep into understanding the medical cause of this condition. Everyone's curiosity is satiated when the doctor clarifies that it is Ishita's fault and that this happened because she had contracted an illness in childhood that had damaged her system. 

In Ishita's story, there is nothing shocking but what is clearly absent is her in laws lack of sympathy or understanding to the girl who could have been seen as their daughter instead of their daughter-in-law. And thus, Ishita's husband who had proclaimed never ending love to her becomes the obedient son to his parents. The coldness, the cruel indifference and finally the rejection of a wife solely because she cannot bear a child is portrayed in a heart rending way. 

Perhaps the author conveys with these instances that even domestic pets are treated better than a daughter in law in some Indian families. A divorced, socially isolated Ishita finds the courage to volunteer and teach underprivileged children. She loves children and they love her back. Gradually, she finds hope and in the process, her own lost sense of individuality. But her parents, particularly her mother, is actively back in a match making mode. That is when her mother and Raman's mother decide to do everything they can to bring their divorced offspring to notice each other as suitable prospects for marriage.

'Custody' redefines the changing parenting scenario in middle class Indian homes

The novel’s portrayal of Ishita is refreshingly free of the cliches that are associated with the 'wicked stepmother' syndrome. Despite Manju Kapur's careful neutral tone, what stands out as stark reality is the loneliness and sheer emptiness that Raman, Shagun and Ishita undergo. 

Do they represent an emerging group of young, successful, educated Indians who can choose the direction of their destiny so easily no matter what the underlying moral implications are like? Or is it reaching a point where expecting morality and fidelity in a marriage is like chasing an illusion?

Manju Kapur's 'Custody' demands a sensitive reading and it offers readers with many important aspects of understanding how marital life in India is fast disintegrating and being shaped by extra marital affairs, materialistic pursuits, and so on. It also offers valuable insights into the vulnerability of children of broken marriages and new 'happily divorced and remarried' statuses of Indian couples. 

This is not merely a story. It is a battlefield of sorts that tears your heart and soul apart because of it's masterful narrative and honesty. Read it but be ready to cry.



♥♥  I thank you with all my heart for reading my post. I dedicate this post with love and gratitude to all book lovers across the world. REQUEST: Please SHARE this article on your favorite social networks. Every share, like or tweet makes me reach out to more book lovers and avid book readers. I am grateful and I appreciate you for doing so. ♥♥

Comments

jk said…
.. NGDCs .. slightly spicy read .. I may not happen read that book but the review made me think of probable solutions for such issues in a more rational manner .. Here the tussle seem to be whether marriage needs to be given any sanctity or not .. Sanctity and Discipline in Married Life seems to be more beneficial to children .. Maybe a More Rational Thought might suggest, till the children are married or settled, the soceity can not be blamed in putting up some restrictions with many hindrences upon extra marital affairs .. maybe for a better Civic Sense with Existence ..
Anonymous said…
This story is indeed a mirror of what many families face not only in India but in the round world itself.

I salute Manju for well executed reality
divyanka said…
It is just a extraordinary novel that every one must read
divyanka said…
I want to thank manju garu

Most Popular Posts

The Ugly Truth about Caste in Kerala

Many years ago, when I wrote this post on Kerala's caste system, I had not considered the possibility that my thoughts and my personal journey would receive such online abuse or that I would be seen as some one who was trying to insult other castes. The intention of writing is always to share an experience and not to insult others. My experience of motherhood and marriage would be different from yours. When I write about my experience, it is illogical to shout that as being insulting to your experience because our journeys are entirely different narratives. 

My question is - why do you ABUSE any caste or person here? You are free to disagree but why do you ABUSE? How does that reflect on YOU?

In my article, I shared what trials I went through, without any intention to insult any community.The intention of my article is to question - why are we even exchanging insults over an issue called caste? 

Should we not be aspiring to be above caste considerations instead of abusing each other …

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra: Meaning, Benefit of Chanting and Who can Chant the Mantra

There are very few mantras that are as powerful as the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra. [ALSO READ: How to NEVER EVER GIVE UP on the spiritual path]

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra: Benefit of chanting this mantra
This mantra is believed to have the power to remove all sufferings, diseases and bestow the one who chants it with good health and long life. It is also believed that constant contemplation of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra can help spiritual aspirants to overcome the cycle of birth and death.
What got me fascinated about this mantra is something personal.  I learned this mantra from my father but it is my maternal grandmother who chanted it all the time and repeatedly told me of its tremendous power to protect. However, I did not chant this mantra regularly. [ Do READ: THE POWER OF LOVE]
But at the age of two, my son was taught some mantras by my mother who explained what it means to him and he became very enthusiastic about chanting the mantras. Following this, my mother taught him the Maha Mrity…

Amazing Signs You are an Earth Angel

Doreen Virtue’s book, “Assertiveness for Earth Angels” brings to life the reality of Earth Angels in very easy way. It’s an exciting must-read! 

[DO READ: The POWER OF LOVE]

Earth Angels have amazing superpowers in: MusicArtsWriting HealingManifesting miracles for others such as controlling weather conditions and  becoming invisible at will.
[MUST READ: A Dad's Advice to the Daughter He loves]
DO READ: ASK MORE, FEAR LESS.

How to Identify Earth Angels by their Traits
To know whether you are an Earth Angel, take a look at their known traits that are explained in this book:


You have a graceful and compassionate aura that inspires people.Your presence “lifts” everyone to happier spirits – it is proof of who you really are.You don’t judge others but you overdo the “acceptance” bit. So, you tolerate even those who show no respect for boundaries.You cannot stand anyone suffering or being in pain. You are constantly “rescuing people” because it is in your nature to want to see everyone happy in …

Top 10 Skincare tips for Summer

Come summer, and we women worry a lot about how the sun lashes out on our skin. True, skincare tips for the summer are plenty but what about the hushed secrets - yes, those tried and tested family secrets that are passed on from mother to daughters? [ALSO READ: How to NEVER EVER GIVE UP on the spiritual path]




Here are some that are totally easy to do. Best of all, these are effective and bring on a feel-good factor in the peak of summer.

1. Replace water with rosewater. It keeps your skin luminous and fragrant throughout the day. It's a good toner too.

2. Cleanse your skin by combining these ingredients - honey, milk, rosewater/rosepetals and turmeric. Add a dash of olive oil and yes, it feels wonderful.

3. Almond oil body baths are a must-have! You will smell delicious all day. This summer, skip all those body lotions & moisturizers! You will love the way almond oil pampers your skin all day!

4. Use a mixture of almond oil and olive oil for your feet. Your feet will sparkle an…

Childhood is the best part of life

Memories have a funny way of coming back into my head, sometimes when I am about to get ready to go to work or sometimes like a flash from the past. It happens to me all the time - swathes of childhood memories flooding back. This time, as the first touches of winter began to make itself felt in Delhi, I went on a trip to Goa with my son and close friends. From the moment I landed in Goa till I got back, I was on a happy high, like a teenager who's going on a much awaited holiday.  Let me tell you a funny thing. I even went and bought myself a swimming costume to wear for the first time since my teenage years but guess what? The funniest part comes now - I never got to wear it. Maybe the idea was just to feel like a teenager again as I am growing older, not wiser! Hahaha!  [MUST-READ: Mahashivaratri - I'm loving it!]



[Image: Pexels]

The Goa trip was an incredible experience that took me back to where I really came from, where my heart has always been - Blantyre. That's where…

A Dad's advice to the daughter he loves: Be yourself, remember you are special and treasure your strengths

Just a week ago, Dad gave me a very emotional pep talk at the Bangalore airport. The good thing is that whenever I feel emotionally vulnerable or stressed out, I replay Dad's conversation. It lifts me up and instantly brings a huge smile to my face. That's my Dad - yeah! 




As a teenager, Bangalore used to be one of my favorite cities though the garden city was not as ''global'' and ''vibrant'' as it is today. It was a pretty cool place to go shopping for stylish accessories, not that I could splurge and go crazy with shopping but I could do so on a limited budget. So, I used to look forward to our summer trips to Bangalore, from where we would head out to Whitefield. 

The busy, broad streets, the scent of street food and the vibrant atmosphere had always perked me up every time I reached Bangalore. Be it heading to Puttaparthi or Whitefield, my parents and I have traveled to Bangalore so many times that it became a kind of ''routine'…

Six Happiness Lessons I learned from a Baby in a Boutique

Happiness is a strange thing, at least in my life. It is always the little things that bring a big smile to my face, not that I have any big things lined up in my life.  But I must confess that happiness is not what I expected to feel when I popped into the neighborhood's busiest boutique! 
[READ: A Dad's Advice to the Daughter He Loves]


Last evening, I had just dropped in to collect some materials that I had given for stitching at the boutique. Besides long traffic jams on the route,  I was stressed out. I needed to complete some paperwork at the private bank and that had just got done at the last minute. I had to pick up groceries on the way and the list was pretty long. Then I had to reach my son before a certain time as per schedule.
So, when I spotted a baby in the boutique, I felt instantly happy.  As our gazes locked, the three-month-old beauty began to smile, stretch her tiny palms to me and our eyes locked for several minutes.  She began to push herself more towards me…

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, whet…

Mumbai Police Movie Review: Prithviraj breaks the typical 'hero' mold, challenges sexual stereotyping

Exploring a completely different dimension in his latest film Mumbai Police, Director Rosshan Anddrews delivers a fast-paced, thriller film after his award winning fims such as Udayananu Tharam, Notebook and others.



To flesh out the script written by Boby Sanjay, Rosshan Anddrews ropes in actors such as Prithviraj, Rahman and Jayasurya to portray three police officers: Antony Moses, Farhan and Aryan respectively.
The story begins with a phone call that Antony Moses (starring Prithviraj) makes to Farhan (starring Rahman) saying that he has solved the murder mystery of Aryan (starring Jayasurya). Just as he says this, there is an accident and Antony Moses loses his memory. From then, Farhan's attempt is to take Antony through people and places that are likely to trigger his memory so that they can solve the murder of their close friend and colleague Aryan. A series of events happen, almost hurtling us towards it.
And I am taking the liberty to hand out trophies for the following:
'M…

Conversation with a friend: How to deal with the death of a loved one and Three Lessons I learned

The simplest lessons are always the toughest to learn.This December, a classmate passed away and I was totally shocked to hear the news. Another shock came my way. I heard that another classmate's husband had passed away and when I received the news, I felt very deeply for her.
[Image: Pexels.com]
1. Reach Out, Show You Care and Be Honest
For me, my classmate is someone whom I had shared countless jokes and conversations with when we were young. Our conversations and happy moments have never faded though we have become different individuals with completely different journeys in life.  So, yes, I plucked up the courage to call and show that I am with my friend through this moment of grief. The experience of the conversation we had humbled me like a lesson of life and the blessing was that I felt much lighter within. 

2. Honour the need of others to grieve in their way
I believe that the ''body'' alone perishes but not the soul. I don't offer my beliefs  to those who …