We all have secrets. Over years, they become memories, a little jaded, a little faded but definitely there.
Lots of memories that are stashed away come alive when you read Jaishree Misra's latest novel, Secrets & Lies, a book that grabs your attention from page one till the end. I
The novel revolves around the age of innocence and the growing up of a bunch of school girls who studied in St Judes', one of Delhi's most famous Convent schools with an Irish Principal, Miss Victoria Lamb whom the girls christen as Lamboo. The four girls in the novel are great friends but their dreams are shattered with the entry of a new girl called Lily. Later, they try to move on with their lives, hoping to forget Lily but haunted by her forever.
There's Bubbles, who had been fat and bad at studies but hails from a wealthy business family. Her ambitious parents arrange her marriage to Binkie, who is the only son of a multimillionaire in London. What touches your heart is that Bubbles doesn't want to marry a millionaire's son because she's totally lost her heart to her best friend Samira's very handsome brother, Haroon. The dashing young man has no clue about this and treats her with fondness just as his sister's friend. Bubbles has her dreams shattered when a new girl joins their batch and Haroon falls hopelessly in love with her.
Samira, the class monitor in their batch, is considered to be an ideal student and friend. She is Miss Lamb's favorite. Every student respects her. She is happy till Miss Lamb ushers in a new student to their class. An unfriendly girl who has no respect for relationships in a girls' school and treats everyone with scorn and disdain. She thwarts Sam's attempts to become friends and insults her in subtle ways.
Anita is the brightest student in the class, with great ambitions about winning the annual scholarship that will take her to pursue higher education in London. Her position in class is threatened by a new girl who joins their batch that year.
Zeba is the most breathtakingly, beautiful girl in their midst. A girl who knows how to extract favors from men by using her sensuality as the enticing bait. She is an enchantress who has decided to make herself immortal by acting roles in life and on reel. Her dreams too are thwarted by a newcomer who turns out to be more intelligent, ambitious and beautiful than she could ever be.
There is nothing extraordinary about the story's plot. Its dash of mystery surrounding Lily's death and how the four girls feel guilty all their life about it is the main thread that carries the story forward and makes a reader want to know what happens next. It also helps that the narrative switches between their growing up years in Mumbai (1993) and London (2008). The conversations and phases that occur between the best friends are so thoughtprovoking as it gets you nostalgic about the days when you had similar conversations with other girls.
I loved the way Jaishree Mishra tells the story of four girls and engages the readers with some serious issues that affect Indian women such as:
1. The social need to find a good husband with a highly enviable family background, preferably NRI.
2. The importance attached to being fair, slim and beautiful in the Indian marriage market and needless to say, a virgin.
3. The facade of most Indian marriages wherein couples feel trapped in a relationship and endure each other for the sake of kids and family honor.
4. The infidelity aspect that has crept into most Indian marriages and yet spouses pretend it doesn't even exist. They go about it secretly.
This novel tries to explain how girls are always bonded more strongly by their friendships with each other than with their parents or spouses. With friends, they can unwind, tell their secrets and lies without feeling afraid of being judged and they can give each other convincing answers about the choices they've made in life.
Some questions to consider:
1. Why do we feel able to let down our defences with our friends from school days and not with those whom we meet now and are generally close with?
2. Girls have secrets, even the good girls. But why do we have secrets? Is it fear? Is it to do with the opposite sex? Is it to prove you are better than the rest? What were your secrets about when you were growing up?
Think about it. Go back to your school days and think about those little moments in your growing years when you think you had secrets of your own that you could discuss with your friends but not your parents and perhaps not even with your spouse. The possibilities of understanding yourself better seems immense if you look within and tread carefully across memory's lane.
That's the very reason why I think Jaishree Misra's Secrets & Lies is a book that's definitely worth reading.