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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 10/5/14 7:00 AM

Book review: Transgressions by Vaiju Naravane


Avalanche of secrets

Adultery, betrayal, loneliness, family friction… all put together with quiet assurance.

Journalist and editor Vaiju Naravane’s first book is about the troubled relationships people enter into and exit from in life.

Kranti Goray is a proverbial Maharashtrian girl next door who emerges rather violently from her chrysalis, becomes something of a femme fatale, eventually ends up a model, fashion designer, aspiring illustrator and mistress of a French psychiatrist.

The story opens dramatically, with Kranti staging her own death, complete with floral arrangements in her lushly appointed apartment in a tiny arrondissement of Paris, suicide note (to a Serbo-Croatian neighbour of lesser means and privilege) and wig on her head. The death, though, is successful and the tale spools backwards, with Kranti’s lover coming upon her secret diary, which reveals a horrifyingly tragic childhood and adolescence.

Of course, secrets tumble out of the cupboard much like an avalanche. Kranti’s father was a leftist who could not make a success of his career and ended up embezzling funds and getting caught. His daughters learn that he had been married before, that there had been an acrimonious divorce and a second marriage to a young widow.

Worse, the man develops a sexual addiction that has him turn to his daughter. Kranti’s mother suffers from a debilitating disease, which could be slow poisoning (and no prizes for guessing who the spotlight of suspicion falls on) and the onerous task of caring for her falls on her far-from-willing family.

Some of the horrors are delineated with a detachment that seems deliberate yet is starker for its distance. There is a definite sense of being a voyeur into Kranti’s less-than-idyllic life yet there is no real empathy for the unfortunate woman.

Kranti leaves her considerable estate to her lover Robert-Pierre. Even as he delves into Kranti’s past through her diaries, her sister Shanti comes to Paris in an attempt to contest the will. The fastidious Frenchman is repelled by the idea of a legal wrangle yet reluctant to quietly hand over everything to a sister who is not portrayed as a caring sibling, close confidante or staunch supporter.

Despite the diaries, the picture we are left with is of a woman who remains shadowy, perhaps intentionally. There are contradictions galore. She is beautiful, but goes to her death with what Robert-Pierre terms a ‘dreadful wig’ on her head; vivacious with a tendency to fall into a brown study.

Her talent for sketching seems a gift but she never makes it big as an illustrator. Her yearning to make her relationship with Robert-Pierre formal is evident, but it doesn’t seem to have caused even a ripple in their ‘perfect understanding’. The Parisian demi-monde never quite accept her, but she lives a life of opulent comfort with no apparent angst. Her sister Shanti Aiyer nee Goray has a PhD,  yet comes off gauche and pedestrian in her outlook.

The book unapologetically serves up a mix of extreme abuse (both physical and emotional), adultery, betrayal, intense loneliness, family friction, cowardice.There are a number of people who walk through the pages.

And then there is beautiful city of Paris looming over them all, not in a threatening manner but not in a benevolent fashion either.  There is an unevenness to the telling; the chronological switchbacks are not an easy ride. This, then, is not an easy story to tell but has been told with quiet assurance.

This ran in THE HINDU`S LITERARY REVIEW of 4 Oct 2014.

bookfictionParisVaiju Naravane

Sheila Kumar • October 5, 2014

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