Our local library was having an awesome book sale. Although I have drastically reduced buying books, it was too tempting. This book caught my eye. Having read Amulya Malladi's Mango Season several years ago, I expected this book to be similar to the former - a light, entertaining read. But after reading the premise, I had a completely different expectation from the book for a more thoughtful and deeper read. So, I put it in my basket. However, upon reading it, I think there's more that could have been done with a very promising storyline.
Anjali, the protagonist of the book, miraculously survives the infamous gas tragedy in Bhopal, India. However, she carries physical and emotional scars left behind by the tragedy. Her marriage to her handsome army-officer husband crumbles and she remarries an honest and kind man, Sandeep. They set up a humble home in Ooty, where they work as a teacher and a professor. Both of them work to their bones, trying to constantly meet the staggering medical costs accrued due to the illness their son faces. Anjali's life goes on, until one day she meets her first husband and his present wife in her very own hilly town. Anjali goes through an emotional upheaval as she relives her past, and revisits the pain and fury that she had buried. Both families grapple to face the uncomfortable realities of the past as they try to deal with the present and move on. Amidst all this, society's judgmental eyes threaten to destroy everything that Anjali has built since her divorce. Each character is stuck in their own emotional whirlpool until they confront their mistakes and make amends.
Sounds like a deep and heavy book, right? I was particularly interested in how the dynamics between the characters play out and how the story would progress in India's conservative society. Although there are interesting parts to the storyline, and Malladi delves into each character's mind and analyses their points of view, there were some parts of the book that went astray and read like every woman's ultimate fantasy. For one, the characters were too stereotypical. The first husband is bad and inconsiderate - a Bollywood movie's villain. He does everything that a filmy villain does. The second husband is good, far too idealistically good. Anjali's sister-in-law and parents are also quite cliched and predictable. And Anjali is the naive and strong woman who is trying to rise above the wrongs done to her. Secondly, Malladi narrates the story from the perspectives of the three important characters - Anjali, her ex, and Sandeep. While this was a nice touch, after a while every character's inner monologues ran to several pages of emotional venting and carried the same "voice". Everyone vented in the same manner, they always glorified how wonderful Anjali is and how horribly wrong they were, and I found it amusing that all their inner monologues concentrated on the minutiae of events. Is that how we sort out feelings? Although I have not gone inside a man's brain to exactly know how men think or reflect, I do know that it is different from a woman's way of thinking! Everyone's inner thoughts read like the ramblings on a an emotional woman's diary, such as mine ;)
Finally, the story itself read like a woman's fantasy of avenging all her wrong-doers. After all, it's only in one's fantasy where one's ex, a hardened egoist until days before, would miraculously regret his mistakes, profusely apologize to you, your current partner, your parents, and even more profusely glorify you and put you on a pedestal that reaches the clouds! If only people had so much self-awareness and kindness! So, a lot of the dynamics and characterizations were quite unrealistic because the characters had no shades to them. They suddenly turned uncharacteristically good or bad.
I also thought that some depictions of how conservative Indian society is, were exaggerated. True, it is still a conservative society compared to the West, but things like the treatment of widows is surely not as archaic today (or even 10 years earlier) as depicted in the book. Even the concept of divorce is not as alien in India as it was 20-30 years ago. I am always nervous of books and other media that inadvertently instill an even more outdated view of India than most people in the West already harbor. So, this was just something that I was wary about.
This is Malladi's debut book, and I am sorry to say this, it does indeed read like a debut book. Everything carries potential, but lacks finesse. I cringe when I write this, because I sound supercilious to say all this, especially after understanding how difficult it is to craft an engaging story. However, these are just my thoughts, and I am just one more clueless person on the internet expressing them.