A chance meeting arranged by her parents with Hemant, turns her life around for the better. Or, so she thinks. Hemant, with his complete America-educated ideas, wants her to be different. We’re taken through her pretty mundane adult life where she discovered extreme passion with her husband, scrutinized by her disapproving mother-in-law, has two children, in which time, her husband transforms into the average Indian husband, loses interest in her and even strays. She goes through an identity crisis which at times is so tiresome as a result of her doormat behavior that we’re very strongly tempted to disregard it as midlife crisis.
At which junction she meets a street-theater personality, who inspires her to script a play. Now we’re introduced to the Babri Masjid issue which pretty much forms the backdrop for the rest of the pages. When he’s burnt alive in a communal riot she joins a group that decides to protest this crude injustice. She starts painting yet again after a long break to serve as an outlet to her emotions. The protest takes her to Ayodhya, where she meets Pipeelika, his widow. She awakens in her a passion and under her husband’s watchful eyes, the two women fall in love. She goes through a whirlwind of emotions as she’s torn between her duties as a wife and mother and desires as a lover. Finally, Pipeelika leaves her to carry on her with her own life and she goes back to leading her mundane life only decorated by her paintings.
The fervor with which Manju describes both the events leading to the riot and the flow of events after that is impressive. There’s a lot of passion that flows through her words. Somewhere there’s also quite a profound bias that mirrors through in her stance. When Astha refuses to voice her innermost feelings, be it with her husband, or with her lover, she’s so much of a doormat that you want to physically shake her and wake her up from her deep slumber. Though this book doesn’t exactly fall under the cliché of Indian writing, Astha, her mother, even Pipeelika to some extent are extremely predictable and there’s nothing really about the book that makes you want to turn to the next page. You somehow always know what’s to come and that’s a bummer. The most intriguing factor however, is Manju’s headaches. They seem to project her emotions sometimes better than she ever does. But the author doesn’t delve into their significance. In fact, when you start looking out for them, they lose their importance and almost entirely disappear.
The one person who bridges the first and second half of the book is Aijaz, the street theater artist, and the portrayal of his character is surprisingly flimsy. Other than the fact Astha was drawn to him, there’s no real reason stated for so many people’s adulation to be bestowed on him
Overall, once readable. Nothing intriguing.