This post first appeared in b00kr3vi3ws.in.
Whenever I go to a bookshop—be it in a mall or in any of the airports —I look for books by Indian authors. And I don’t get disappointed. I get the best in non-fiction—retired bureaucrats, army men and politicians writing their memoirs, successful businessmen sharing their secrets, management gurus detailing the best practices, historians sparring over Aryan invasion, Mughal rule or Asoka. Books that are no inferior to those of international authors in terms of contents and research.
But what do I get in fiction?
Shelves full of school/college romance, extra-marital affairs, sex starved wives, over hyped feminism. Recently I read 3 best sellers of a leading female author. Novel after novel, the heroine despises her husband of arranged marriage and craves to unite with her love of school days. Another thriller by a budding author starts with a four letter abusive word. The heroine uses the word 78 times throughout the novel!
Not that these are not worthy of writing. But is it fair to overwhelm the reader with a skewed version of the modern day woman? Are these what define the woman of the day? Is she not above the material pleasures of life?
Are women not of substance like Mythili?
Wife the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Mythili is an amazing mix of childish enthusiasm and sober maturity. Sounds like a paradox? Hear this. When the High Court acquits her husband Sesha in a hate crime case, she pulls him out of a lecture in Anna University, gives the security guys the slip and takes him out on a late-night romantic drive. But when a charge of sexual harassment surfaces against Sesha, when her daughter calls Sesha vile and walks out of the house, what does she do? Does it shake her unassailable faith in her husband? It is her response to this challenge that sets her apart from the heroines of contemporary novels.
Mythili may not be the most beautiful woman on Earth, but she has grace, a smiling face and an amiable nature that put people at ease and encourage them to strike a conversation. She may not make everyone give her a second look, but anyone who speaks to her for a few minutes is likely to remember her for a long time.
Does Sesha deserve Mythili? After all, he is a politician. And what is the impression one gets of a politician from Bollywood movies? A believer in God who wears a tilak and sports a thick moustache, a politician is generally illiterate and represents everything that is evil. How does Sesha fare against this definition? Believer? Yes. Illiterate? No way. He is a bright chartered accountant. He heads the investment arm of a multinational bank before landing in politics. Represents evil? Well, Tamil Nadu witnesses phenomenal development during his tenure; he becomes extremely popular among the masses. But then, why does he get embroiled in criminal cases one after another. Are the differences only in external appearance? In substance, is he just another Bollywood politician? Or is he innocent?
How could he be? After all, it is Zarina— the renowned human rights activist who has spent two decades of her life championing the cause of the deprived— who levels the charges against him. At 44, she looks amazingly young. She generally leaves her hair loose. Unless viewed very closely, the dark tan lipstick would not be visible at all. Her brown eyes, a rare phenomenon among Tamils, display a steely resolve to bring the bad elements, however popular they may be, to book.
Will Sesha survive the charges levelled against him? Is Mythili with him in this fight?