After my disastrous experience with Rupa Publications’ “Confession” series, “Confessions of a Private Tutor”(https://madwomanintheatticblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/confessions-of-a-private-tutor-vikram-mathur/), I was quite wary of picking up the “Metro Reads” from Penguin. This time however I was wiser and instead of purchasing the book, I borrowed it from the library (yeah these things still do exist!) While this book is not half as bad as the earlier one, yet I am glad that I saved my Rs 150/- for I don’t see myself picking it up again. For that matter, I cannot think of re reading any of the books being published these days. As a onetime read, this piece is just about okay but it clearly is not going down the annals of “Indian writing in English” as path breaking ( and I doubt the author had such lofty visions for it to begin with).
First things first, it is aptly under the “metro reads” series for it reflects a very urbane sensibility. It is clearly targeted at the urban, cosmopolitan audience and that too in the age group of 20s and 30s. Can anyone imagine the “heroine” of yesteryears novels or films falling in love with and having an affair with a married man? Or thinking of her virginity as a “monkey “that she has to get off her back once she touches 30? Not quite. The women who behaved and thought like this in our parent’s generations were called “vamps”- the “evil other woman” and definitely not the protagonist. Times and have changed and so has the social conditioning. And this is a work that reflects the changing times, changing sensibilities and the changing social fabric, complete with a dig at the recent rage for reality shows.
While talking about this book, the author said “The book isn’t about losing your virginity, but about understanding who you are.” (http://madhuribanerjee.blogspot.in/2012/04/hindu-losing-my-virginity-and-other.html). Inspiring as it may sound, the book nowhere touches this lofty ideal unless being sexually active (even promiscuous) is counted as being equivalent to an understanding of the self. As the novel begins, Kaveri, the protagonist, is turning 30 and her overriding thought is to lose her virginity. Yes, this is cosmopolitan India where virginity, even in a girl beyond a certain age, is a stigma rather than just a part of life or who she is. What starts out as a quest for a good lay turns into a quest for the one “Great Love” of her life, and like many, Kaveri too falls for the wrong man. Like a true woman in love, she refuses to see the writing on the wall- something that the reader and her own friend, Aditi, can see very clearly. It would all be very well if she would reclaim herself and her life after this experience. But while she does learn to distinguish between “Love, sex and romance” and emerge more clear headed and confident, her confidence seems to spring from her realisation of her sexual prowess rather than anything else. From being a hesitant and guilty virgin at 30 to a sexually active woman having quickies in a Cafe washroom with acquaintances at 32- this is how this apparent “Bildungsroman ( Wikipedia- novel of formation, novel of education,or coming of age story that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist and in which, therefore, character change is extremely important)” reads. Nowhere did I get any hint of Kaveri’s growth is the following terms except that the author says so in her take on the book- “The one true love is with yourself. The men are ephemeral. Unless you love yourself completely, you cannot love another person. Moreover, we are born into this world alone and die alone, so it’s important to love yourself”. Sexual emancipation? Yes. Personal growth, development or self-discovery? No. And this is where the novel fails to deliver despite an easy style and narrative.
In today’s fast changing world, one is likely to find a Kaveri, or a variant thereof, in any nook and corner of any Indian metropolis. But till date it is difficult to find a character like D.H Lawrence’s “Paul Morel”, protagonist of Sons and Lovers, regarded as one of the finest examples of Bildungsroman. But then that was Paul Morel, this is Kaveri. Read it with this clarity of thought and expectation.