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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/19/16 7:35 AM

Book review: The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur

 Storm in a teacup

 Once in a while, along comes a book written at the cusp of imagination and craft. This slim volume that released a few months ago, tells a compellingly ordinary story and tells it in style.

The protagonist is a middle-aged housewife running to a little fat, going about her everyday life: tending to her truant son, verily the apple of her eye; tending to her in-laws who, she assures the reader, treat her with love as well as respect; and keeping things in fine fettle whilst her physiotherapist husband does his job in faraway Dubai. Only, Renuka Sharma has  more longings and desires inside her than she had previously gauged or plumbed.

The argot is so genuine, with delightful  little frills like: he stood calmly in one place, like a statue of some great man; she did her level best;  I was feeling a little bit odd;  I asked him jokily; he agreed
then and there. Never does it all become caricature of a certain type, indicating the author`s control over both plot and characterisation.

Slowly, thereader finds herself falling in love with the tone, the cadence,  and the language Renu Sharma uses. Voila, we are now interested and invested in Renu Sharma, and when she finds a young swain with an old heart, we cheer for her.

Of course, by now we have ascertained that Mrs. Sharma is both respectable as well as practical, remarkably level-headed, such an Everywoman. (But yes, sometimes that there are occasional lapses in moral rectitude, like when she is on a walk-through in a boutique hotel and comes  upon a shiny red leather case for ties. She wants to pick it up for Mr. Sharma,  only it is too large to slip into her purse.)  And we are almost sure that the swain is only a very small part of this woman`s matrix.

There are some real gems in here. Like when Renu Sharma explains to the reader that she goes to malls to find peace. What she likes is the `cool and clean of the building`; she does not go to buy because everything is at least thirty per cent costlier than what is in the market and then everything is also fixe price so you can even bargain. She goes to find peace.

Like when she tells us the difference between being work-busy which, of course, is totally different from being house-busy. The author has skillfully depicted the clashing of personalities that actually dovetail: the dutiful wife, mother, daughter-in-law vs. the woman who refuses to recognize certain needs even as she involuntarily gives in to them.

Kapur`s writing at times brings to mind the style of another Kapur, Manju Kapur. As the intensity of Mrs Sharma`s need to see and be with her swain increases, she starts to feel confused and despises that confusion, convinced it is a sickness suffered by the weak-minded. And not for one minute is our Mrs. Sharma weak-minded. She knows that life’s problems cannot be solved by ten or twenty
simple words. More importantly, she knows her limits. She knows her duties toward her  family, she has always fulfilled those duties and intends to continue doing so till the day she dies. In the meantime, can we blame her if all she wants is to have some fun?

It’s such a smooth transition, the superseding of the duties by the  fun. The reader is forever glancing up at the invisible sword dangling above Mrs. Sharma`s sleek head. Will it fall? Does it fall?

Well really, can anything bad befall such a sensible woman? And yes, Mrs. Sharma`s ruminations are a crystal-clear reflection on the social and economic inequities that define India today.

If this is the only read for you all of this hot summer, go ahead, read it. You won’t regret it.

The Private Life of Mrs Sharma By Ratika Kapur/Bloomsbury/Rs 299/185 pages.

This ran in UNBOXED WRITERS of 19 May 2016.


Ratika KapurThe Private Life of Mrs SharmaUnboxed Writers website

Sheila Kumar • May 19, 2016

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