However, when I read ‘A Married Woman’, I was awestruck with her sensitivity in dealing with the inner turmoils and conflicts of a woman. The emotions she feels while growing up – the first flush of romance, the first stare of an unwelcome man, the total surrender to her lover and the frustrations of a married woman, who has seen it all and her desperation to trade her well settled life for an adventurous ride. Manju has deftly voiced the varied phases of a woman’s life in her present novel.
The protagonist Astha, a talented artist, born in a Government officer’s home “was brought up properly, as befits a woman, with large supplements of fear.” She is strictly watched over by her mother and is conditioned to believe that a good girl is supposed to live a suffocated life, strangulating her desires and limiting her freedom.
In the safe environs of her home, Astha grows up with her own notions of love and beauty, considering both of them to be ethereal, out of reach of a plain Jane like her. However, a storm rages in her life, when she meets her best friend’s brother, an epitome of etiquette and good looks. She is smitten with him and experiences the pangs of love for the very first time.
But, soon she realizes that she was caught in the flimsy web of one-sided love and decides to never let herself swayed by a man’s amorous touch. In this twisted tale, at that very moment, Hemant is introduced, an America returned practical, modern man. And, once again, Astha drops all her defenses and accepts him as the man of her life.
Hemant, whom Astha believes to be a perfect husband, soon turns out to be a bit too worldly-wise for our dreamy-eyed heroine. He is the typical Indian man, who wants her wife to be a perfect mix of docility and meekness, combined with a live wire approach in bed and a go-getter as far as earning money is concerned. Astha finds it difficult to juggle with her complex role as a dutiful wife, a loving mother, a sincere teacher and a subservient daughter-in-law, with no identity of her own, leaving little time to nurture her own talent.
This may seem like an ordinary story of a working woman, but the solution, she comes up with, is unique. Astha ends up having an extra marital affair with first a Muslim theater artist, and then with his ambitious girlfriend, Piplika. Yes, the story leaves its traditional path midway, as the protagonist finds solace in the loving embrace of another woman.
Will Astha be happy in her new avatar, or will she return to her boring marital life, where her insensitive yet caring husband and innocent kids are waiting for her? Is it true that she forms a bond with Piplika to rebel against the society smothering her with its cruel fangs or is she being misled by another wayward woman towards a vicious unending hell?
I just loved the novel for the various questions, it fires at the reader, presenting him with the sneak peeks into the inner thinking of the characters and forcing him to sympathize with their irrational, spontaneous acts, forgiving each blunder as a small mistake.
Though, I found the lesbian angle to be slightly unconvincing, as the only connection between Astha and Pipeelika was the Muslim artist, who dies a premature death, and then through some mumbo-jumbo, the Babri Masjid incident is introduced into the novel as a backdrop to the unusual romance between the two women.
The climax of the novel was also a slight dampener for me, but, I found Manju Kapur’s second baby as a thought provoking, insightful peep into a woman’s heart. A must read for all her fans.