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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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