By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
By Manju Kapur (Faber and Faber, $29.99, 418 pages)
Relationships are hardly picture-perfect, but Manju Kapur’s fifth novel delicately balances the threads of emotional upheaval with a marriage breakdown, infidelity and divorce.
Well-regarded as an engaging and considerate raconteur of Indian middle-class scenarios, Kapur uses to advantage the rich tapestry of plots provided by these people.
The premise comes with conflicts between India’s traditional values and the more Western desires that bring new prosperity.
Set in Delhi in the mid-1990s in the largely prosperous, upper colonies where the noticeable backdrop sees an early surge of foreign investment in India.
The intertwining stories involve Raman and Shagun (as pretty as he is dull) and hot-shot sales executive Ashok and infertile Ishita.
Raman and Shagun have two children and live the good lifestyle that befits his monetary status. After his boss, Ashok, has an affair with Shagun, she begins to question her roles as a wife, mother and lover. A downhill spiral begins when she asks Raman for a divorce. His ideal life disintegrates around him, sinking to the depths of despair as self-pity and anger take control.
In another part of the city, traditional bonds permeate through a colony where a young divorcee, Ishita, endeavours to find pleasure in freedom and social work.
The drama unfolds with a carefully balanced timbre: the loneliness, frustrations, devastation, rejection and pain suffered by the characters.
In the middle of the panic and stipulations of the four adults, the children (Arjun and Roohi) remain silently in the background. The disastrous side-effects of the bitter fight for their custody unravel in the second half, with “the tyranny of blood”, and their distress, as they’re “torn between two mothers, two homes, two countries”.
The qualms of matrimony are revealed with meticulous sincerity along with the psychological ugliness.
This award-winning Indian novelist addresses the gendered nature of custody battles in India, without sermons or oversimplifications.
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.