Book Review of ‘The Madras Affair’ by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair_cover

Cover page of The Madras Affair, published by Readomania

In the novel ‘The Madras Affair’, published by Readomania, the author Sundari Venkatraman transports the readers to a world of romance that blossoms, flourishes, then dwindles and again rises in the denouement, much like the mills and boon series we had been addicted to in our teenage years, only here the romance hovers much to the chagrin, the turmoil and haplessness of the world where the lovers find themselves in. And instead of the carefree western characters of the M&B romance, here the lovers, especially the heroine, the young widow Sangita and her family carry the baggage of Indian traditional sensibilities, threatening to nip the romance in the bud, right when it comes to sweep her off her feet.

This tug and pull of mindless orthodoxy versus sensuous, unhindered expression of love continues almost till the end of the novel. Also, this conflict constitutes much of the dramatic tension that almost overpowers the romance at places, as the heroine Sangita braces herself for an uphill battle not only against archaic societal norms, but also against the demons at play in her own psyche.

Through the pages, we are led to the mysterious, wayward trajectories of Sangita’s mind, oscillating between traditions and sensuous expressions, between her harrowing past and the glittering promises and sweet seduction of love that beckons her. On one hand, the tormenting memories of her dead husband Giridhar and his abuses, both sexual, physical and verbal, make her yearn for the fulfilment of passionate love she finds in the arms of Gautam, the hero. On the other hand,  she seems to be at the receiving end of false, preconceived notions of her own self-assessed frigidity, which, at the end, is proven to be false, baseless in the arms of Gautam. The frigidity and apathy towards sexual attraction, which Sangita embraces as her inherent attributes, works mostly to thwart the passionate demeanor of Gautam, but as the romance wins over, the readers realize passion lies at the core of Sangita’s own being too, only the memories of the loathsome groping of her body by her dead husband Giridhar haunts her and conditions her to believe that she is incapable of expressing her love physically.

The transformation of Sangita from the tormented, docile widow and mother of a young kid, always at the receiving end of her apathetic parents’ whims and patriarchal diktats to the dynamic, confident woman spearheading an NGO for battered woman, is traced in the narrative through flashbacks. The narrative shuttling between the past and the present,  dissects the issue of widow remarriage and also indulges in the sizzling romance destined to throw away prevalent social customs. The depiction of the scenes and settings serve to present the emotional world of Sangita and Gautam, smitten by love, lust, spice and charm, yet fraught with questions, indictments and startling revelations that only bring them closer to each other in the long run.

The desperate, despondent romantic in me started reading the novel in the month of February, which happens to be the month celebrating romance, trying to get some fodder for writing breezy romantic stuff of my own. However, towards the end, I found myself curled up in an orthodox south Indian woman’s struggles to get rid of her own inhibitions. I also found myself cursing the ridiculously regressive cultural traditions and the dreadful objectification that Sangita is trapped into, not only by her husband’s sick sexual advances, but also by her own family who thrusts the label of a sexless, celibate, frigid widowhood on her, trying to push her in a bottomless pit of self-destruction. In the end, with the union of Sangita and Gautam as a couple in body and spirits, especially in the bold, steamy lovemaking scene, it all came full circle, in a complex, intriguing and alluring tapestry of human emotions where love became the all-consuming and omnipotent force, sweeping everything else away.

As a reader, I would recommend the book to lovers of breezy, whirlwind romances, who are also looking for a gripping, tight storyline and an underlying social message.

About the Author:

Sundari

Sundari Venkatraman

Growing up on a heavy dose of fairy tales and comic books, Sundari fell in love with the ‘lived happily ever after’ syndrome. It was always about good triumphing over evil and a happy end. 
     
Soon, into her teens, Sundari graduated to Mills & Boon romances. And that got her thinking – how about such breezy romances in Indian settings? Her imagination took flight and she always lived in a rosy cocoon of romance over the years. 
     
Then came the writing – a true bolt out of the blue! Sundari had just quit her job as a school admin and was taking a break. She was saturated with reading books. That’s when she returned home one evening after her walk, took some sheets of paper and began writing. It was like watching a movie that was running in her head – all those years of visualising a perfect Indian romance had to be put into words. The dormant romantic storyteller in her finally found its calling and The Malhotra Bride was born. While she felt disheartened when publishing didn’t happen, it was her husband who encouraged her to keep writing. 
   
 In the meanwhile, she landed a job as copy editor with Mumbai Mirror. After working there for two years, she moved to the Network 18 Group and worked with two of their websites over the next six years, as content editor. 
    
 Despite her work schedule, she continued writing novels and short stories and had them published in her blogs. She also started blogging voraciously, writing on many different topics – travel, book reviews, film reviews, restaurant reviews, spirituality, alternative health and more. 
    
Her first eBook Double Jeopardy – a romance novella – was published by Indireads and has been very well received by readers of romance.  
    
In 2014, Sundari published The Malhotra Bride (2nd Edition); Meghna; The Runaway Bridegroom; Flaming Sun Collection 1: Happily Ever Afters From India (Box Set) and Matches Made In Heaven (a collection of romantic short stories) in form of ebooks.
The Madras Affair is available in Amazon and Goodreads.

 

 

Defiant Dreams: Editors’ Interview in The Indian Short Story in English

Defiant Dreams_book

The cover page of Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas, available in Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

Hello friends, me and my co-editor Rhiti Bose are super-excited to share our first interview about our book ‘Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas’, featured in Indian Short Story in English.
Defiant Dreams was a soul-searching journey to say the least, and we thank all of you, our contributing authors, our friends, our family who have made this dream possible for both of us.

Special thank you to Dipankar Mukherjee, Readomania and Indrani Ganguly for being the strong pillars of support for this book. Also thankful to Mr. Murli Melwani, Editor of ISSE for conducting this interview and for publishing it in the journal/blog.

We look forward to your views/feedback regarding the interview.

Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas

The Firebird

 

And then, they hit me, just below the belt,

woman strength

Image Courtesy: Pinterest.com

And shoved me to a corner to preach me
With their habitual sermons of sanctity,
Just when I was clasping the clay molds
To turn them into spitting images of myself,
My everyday girlfriends, sisters, dainty rivers prancing
and preening around fire-lit open courtyards.

And then, they sucked the lilting rhythms of a female fetus
Out of my hungering womb, and left me to die every day
With the barren shrieks of a hopeless nothing,
My femaleness, a tough, bottomless pit
which they entered again, and again, and again,
tirelessly, until a male offspring is borne.

……Did my river bleed when my trident perforated
demon skins? I ran, and ran, and ran
Like a beast, chased, driven away,
Until the unscathed horizon took me in.
Who is it that chases me still? The rough undone
of voyeur fists and limbs? All I have sought for
Is a man sheltering my hidden pores,
A chapati between my hungry teeth, my chapped lips.

…….And then, they smothered me dead, because as Draupadi,
My fiery red cajoled them into hostility. As Sita,
My chastity made them push their boundaries.
As Kunti, the unblemished terrains of my want
enticed them to father my legendary sons.
As the black, ‘dalit’ girl, the earth and water of my being
was a living proof of profanity, a sacrilege
that they sanctified by feasting on the tar of my flesh.

And then, you who have crushed and torn my silky petals,
You who have made me sing lust-ridden songs,
You who have taught our mothers to kill us in the womb,
To mourn our birth while their cherished sons blossom
in their milky warmth, you who have made us
The sacrificing Sati and Behula, brimming with fortitude,
You who have sold our flesh for six pence, will sit at my feet,
Prostrate, when I am the naked, elemental Kali,
at my apocalyptic best. And then, when I adorn my forehead
with the toxic blood of generations, my scarlet tongue,
spread out, larger than life, glitters, gleams with peril.

Let me be the savage cry, the dark, scraped beast
Before you call me the Goddess and the whore, yet again.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. January 27, 2016

SHE: Draupadi and The Every Woman

Draupadi

Draupadi. 

Image source: mahabharata.wikia.com

I am a phenomenal woman.

I’ve let you drown in the chocolate sea of my visual beauty, 

In the mystic mystery of my lips, my cleavage, my deep dark tresses. 

You have reveled in my flesh, and never knew my blood, tears and sweat.

You revel in the glories of the orient, the magnitude of epics in the east

Remember the glorifying times some four thousand years back,

When the Veda and other scriptures were snatched away from our hands;

When Hindu purists dictated which women would veil their faces within locked bars

And doors of what they called their ‘home’, and which others would spread out

Their blossoming bodies in temples as ‘Devdasis’ (God’s own concubines).

We have been given away, sold and abandoned at the dictates

Of these purists who have been fathers, Lords, husbands and sons. 

I was born, in Panchal, bereft of a mother’s Yoni,

Emerging from burning contours of fire,

The river of my body ran and ran, meandering,

Eyes to cheeks, cheeks to chin, chin to my swan neck,

Nativity singing thigh-deep in the river that struggled

To stay still. I am the mighty, yet helpless Yaagyaseni,

The lilac, dark and earthy, my hair, a nocturnal flower,

Deep, dark tresses canopying male thirst, 

Consecrated with the color of Dushshaashan’s blood. 

A sloka in the epic Mahabharata says: 

“Na stree swatantramarhati” (a woman has no right to freedom in her life).

After epochs, I still contain the poison ivy and wrath of Draupadi, Panchali, 

Daughter to the king of Panchal, wife and mistress to five able,  

Masculine husbands, the Pandavas.

My five husbands, besotted by my suffocating beauty and aura,

Shared my breathtaking youth as easily as they shared alms in exile.

None looked at the gashes of my heart, while I ached behind the silent veil 

For my love, Arjuna. He had his shameless share of Chitrangada, 

Subhadra, and his countless other consorts, yet in the bed,

His dark, formless masculinity was coiled around me. 

Like an orchid, like a creeper tree, I had to strive for shelter, 

Wrestling with my mind, as I shifted beds and desires between my Lords, 

As my womb bore children by my Lords, who desired me,

As I embraced strange silence when rendered a mere pawn 

At the gambling table by my eldest Lord, Yudhisthira.

And even as I was being disrobed at the royal court of the Kauravas.

The great assembly of people present there knew I was bereft of honor

In spite of my five husbands; bereft of respect in spite of my sons,

Bereft of joy or victory in spite of being a queen.

Legend has it that the volcanic Draupadi reduced her enemies to the ashes.

What could I do with the lifeless jewel and empty crown 

In an epic that discards me repeatedly?

For all my strength and spirit, valor and virtue, 

I am at the receiving end of suffering and disgrace

In an epic written and dictated by men.

The Voice of the Every Woman:

I have been a ‘female’, a ‘meyechhele’, an ‘aurat’, a ‘jenana’

 For eons and centuries now. 

A crushed and broken leaf, my virginity, a looming deadline,

Prodding, pricking, I breathe in its burning sulfur, 

The flame gets lost, drenched in the night’s rain. 

I am the unfathomable silence and the sanctity put to test

Stroked, palmed, heated, cooled, tampered, a zillion times,

Smoldering in the scars and beauty marks, the fire dwindling,

Down to its finishing embers. I am the ink and the muse

The Gajagamini, the slow, resilient steps of the elephant, 

The unhurried dance and the wellspring of secret music

That inspires paintings, tapestries and lyrics. I am 

The scattered pieces of Draupadi, waist to breast, neck to lips

In blood as I walk down the steady flame, the apocalypse 

Where the scourging fire, the hungry flame threatens, screams

And dies down, my wounds, festering, adorning me.

My story is a memoir of the salt and pepper, the yin and yang 

Of domesticity. My story is the story of my ancestors, 

My journey, a broad spiritual legacy. 

Here, in your hands that I clench tight, my lover, my husband,

My father, my son, my friend, my poet, my artist and my ravager, 

I give you the knife to peel off my skin, one slice at a time, 

To crush my rib cage and cut open the pool gushing, the heart,

Red, volatile, hollow, one that you may have never dived. 

I feel sanctity in the blood drops, in my clogged pores, 

My arteries and veins, breaking free of relentless femininity.

I am the phenomenal woman. I thus rise 

Above darkness, deception, decay in a new thrust of life.

—————————————————————————————————————

Note: This poetic narrative, first published in B’khush.com, is dedicated to all my women friends across the globe, just before the occasion of the International Women’s day in March 8. The piece is developed from an excerpt of my book-length memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ which has recently been a finalist and a First Place Category winner at the Journey Awards 2014 for Narrative Nonfiction hosted by Chanticleer Reviews.

 

Skin-To-Skin: The Bed Song

With the Valentine’s day round the corner, I would love to re-share a love poem close to my heart, written for the love of my life, published in Read Fingers some time back. Hope the lovers residing inside some of you will love the poem:

Skin-To-Skin: The Bed Song

lovers

Image Source: Free Wallpapers, Google.  

www.download-free-wallpaper.com 

I love the way our beaks work
the warm musk of breath between
the surrendering, silencing us.
Silencing the way we talk to
each other about love.
I love the way you whisper and unbutton,
swing across my face, pushing me back.
Our bodies, a series of practiced curves;
the movements of pleasure in our mouths.
I love the way you rain inside of me.
The convulsive stage of flesh meeting flesh,
hands gripping hands, where we creep closer still.
I love the way I loose the shore
of our skins, moving imperfectly
through our sounds, without voices.
I love the movement, the suffocation,
the lava stewing at my rib cage.
I am tied around this waddling act,
falling over, making love
like a birdsong, gripping and grouching
unsettling, splattered in the clingy dark
of the room.
I love the way we settle
Between pillows, pulling down,
Thrusting up, quivering inside,
Your senses floating, lapped at my knees.
I love the way the smoke and flame
Of our bodies retire, while we are
Consumed, unbound, resting.
Our only true love, a slippery, playful,
Impish text, our smells lingering, living.

The published poem can be viewed here:

http://www.readfingers.com/portfolio-item/skin-to-skin-the-bed-song-by-lopa-banerjee/