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.
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