A review by Rubina Ramesh
Book: The Madras Affair
Author: Sundari Venkatraman
Rating: 5 stars
She is Sangita. Introduced to us as the head of an NGO for downtrodden and homeless women. But not many eons ago, Sangita was one of them. Ah well, not homeless, but a woman doesn’t need the deprivation of a ‘house’ to feel homeless, does she? An abusive husband is enough to make one feel so.
Sangita’s first marriage is introduced to us as abusive and violent. Marital rape is such a hushed subject, both in India and on the western shores. Ms. Venkatraman has not glorified it, nor has she made it the core subject of this novel. But the anger is equally potent, and can be felt only by a woman after reading the story. The most criminal part in this whole story is when a woman is told time and again:
“A woman’s place is with her husband, Sangita. She has no respect if she stays away from him.”
I only have one word for this – Bull!
What many don’t realize is that an abusive person wants only one thing…
“They were unable to understand that Giridhar was doing his best to break down her will …”
That sums up Sangita’s circumstances.
Lady with dignity…
But Sangita is not shown as a downtrodden woman in any frame of the story. I would call her a subdued fighter. When she first hears about her husband’s demise, I loved the lack of pretense in her.
“I feel as if an extremely vicious curse has been lifted off me.” She gave her sister-in-law a small, nervous smile.
Frankly speaking, if she had mourned the death of her husband, I would have shut down the book. So kudos to Ms. Venkatraman for being very honest with the emotions here. Time to be an angel is over.
It is sad when a woman and an innocent child are blamed for the death of man who was riding a bike after consuming alcohol. But I suppose, the ways of society are still in their infancy stage and reasoning is yet to be a developed ‘organ’ in a human body.
And in the midst of all her troubles, she meets Gautam…
He is Gautam Sinclair. Ms.Venkatraman’s blue-eyed boy. A man who comes with his own set of weaknesses and strengths. A man who comes across as a normal human. Leaving his American way of life behind, he settles in India to teach. When he meets Sangita for the first time, he is bowled over by her simplicity and beauty. But with the constant fear Sangita had with regard to her parents, she is unable to accept his love. From the time he met her, he understood her. Like two soulmates meeting after a long time.
When Gautam meets Sangita, she is a widow with a young child. Moreover, the society she lives in does not encourage widow remarriage. Gautam has lived in the USA all his life and all the taboos of the society are beyond his understanding.
Sangita, on the other hand, cannot break the chains of tradition, yet the attraction she feels for Gautam slowly consumes her. But her earlier marriage has left her with many scars. Will she be carrying all her scars into this new relationship? Will Gautam be able to accept Sangita with all her baggage?
The Love Story…
Every love story must have a villain. And so does the love story of Sangita and Gautam: the society. Widow remarriage is slowly catching up in India, but it was not always so. What surprised me in Sangita’s case is that it is her own parents who were against her remarriage. In the beginning, it was only Sangita’s mom who did not get any brownie points from me when she made Sangita go back to her abusive hubby. As the story unfolds, her lack of sympathy towards Sangita really riled me as a reader. Moreover, Sangita is shown as a woman who wants to please everyone. So will she be able to convince her parents regarding her second chance?
Growth of Characters…
I might sound biased here but for me, as a woman, Sangita flowered as a character. But I cannot say the same with Gautam. He is really a 50 shades of emotions for me. In some scenes you will love him, while in others he comes out as arrogant. There is one scene where his human weakness is totally naked for all to see… and a few to admire. It takes a lot of guts to give your protagonist a few moments of weakness, especially when one expects him to be Sangeeta’s savior.
Touches of Reality…
Every story of Ms. Venkatraman has a touch of reality. Feminism is subtle. Some might protest even at the lack of overt feminism. But it’s there. It’s not the kind where a woman can blatantly stand against a man, or demonstrates feminism holding a placard. It’s more subtle, more deep, more real. Sangita is an ordinary girl who becomes extraordinary due to her circumstances.
One has to mention the beautiful flow of the story and the meticulous editing by Indrani Ganguly. There two things which I should mention here:
- I felt the ‘weak moment’ of Gautam did not suit his character portrayal.
- The backstory of Sangita’s life could have been reduced to one telling. By the time Sangita tells Gautam everything, we already knew it. That tends to take us away from the main plot of the love story.
But the above points are only my perspective as a reader; it is not a grammatical error, nor does it hamper the flow of the story. Many of you might think otherwise… but to prove me wrong, of course you have to read the book.
Would I recommend this to anyone?
A must read for all Romance lovers.
The Line that Stayed with me…
“Oh,” interrupted Sandeep impatiently. “I’m not talking about my Giri Daddy. He died. Are you going to be my new daddy?” he asked again.
This review was first published in The Book Club, a USA-based blog, and has been republished with permission.
Rubina Ramesh is an avid reader, writer, blogger, book reviewer and marketer. She is the founder of The Book Club, an online book publicity group. She has published several short stories and can be reached via Twitter @
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