The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 3, 2002

A gripping tale well told
Aradhika Sekhon

Circles of Silence, An Indian Love Story,
by Preeti Singh, published by Hodder and Stoughton, pages 503, pounds 6.99

Circles of Silence, An Indian Love StoryONCE you finish doing double-takes over the cover of the book, which could easily mislead you into thinking that it’s a Gulshan Nanda novel rather than a book written by an editor of the Oxford University Press, New Delhi, and get your teeth into the book, you find that its not bad at all. Why then is Preeti Singh trying to discourage potential readers by disguising it in a completely retro-look cover is a question that remains unanswered.

This cover would have you believe that the book is set in the late 60s- 70s. But you discover that it’s about Delhi in the late 80s- 90s…a completely different time-lifestyle-attitude framework altogether. That Singh has lived, studied and worked there is evident from the comfortable familiarity with which she writes about the city and the people who live here, their lives and concerns. Under scrutiny are the Punjabi Khatri businessmen and their socialite wives – the Malhotras, the Chibs, the Saxenas, the Chabras, the Madans, the Thapars- who live in the upmarket areas of Vasant Vihar and Hauz Khas.


Their daughters study in Miranda House, while the sons go abroad and return to take over papa’s business. The wives play cards in air-conditioned rooms, are waited upon by handsome, uniformed (in bandgala coats) servants and spend their evenings waiting for their husbands. That these servants may also provide solace and comfort in their ‘lonely’ lives by giving them what they’re denied by their husbands is quite all right as long as it remains a secret.

The plot centres around the Malhotra family—Noni, Pammi and their son Rattan, who, educated in the US, returns to marry the girl carefully selected by Pammi—pretty, modern and just the right notch beneath the Malhotra family. Things are hunky-dory for 3 months, then the girl dies, supposedly committing suicide by hanging herself. The family is jolted out of its smug placidity, especially Rattan, who had hitherto led a charmed life. The situation is not made easier by the fact that ‘Sahayata’, an NGO, led by a radical feminist, Meneka, has established itself next door. To avoid the slogan shouting and scandal that ensues, Rattan is procured a job in Cairo. It is here he meets Nalini, the ambassador’s daughter, who has had to supplant her dead mother as her father’s hostess, all the while longing for her life in Delhi.

Thus begins the‘Indian Love Story indicated in the title, of Rattan and the conservatively brought-up Nalini. The twist in the tale occurs when Meneka Saxena, a college friend of Nalini’s comes for a visit to Cairo and confronts Rattan.

Preeti Singh has ‘ gone by the book’ in her first novel. There are all the elements that are prescribed for a novel. There is a story, which is pleasant to read but not path-breaking in its scope and originality, the characters sketched out with a few well-chosen words, but who don’t really grow as the novel unfolds. The plot that includes a murder and a love story and the setting that alternates between Delhi and Cairo. Apparently comfortable at both places, Delhi and Cairo, where she lived with her diplomat husband, Singh’s sketch of Delhi definitely steals a march over her picturisation of Cairo—" Nalini felt herself there, on New Delhi’s streets, with their throngs of people rushing to and fro, doing all the things that they had to do. They were there in her mind’s eye, weaving through perilous traffic, crossing roads, catching buses at chaotic bus stops, walking the pedestrian walkways, stopping at fruit vendors to pick up the odd banana, orange or guava, singing the latest film song oblivious of others around, shouting out a namaste to the taxi man on a cot under a tree, taking a break from the afternoon heat.…"

Although Singh does contrive to superimpose the grandeur and omniscience of the Nile and the Pyramids, whenever she is able to do so, but Delhi appears to be where her heart is.

The novelist doesn’t try her hand at a lot of philosophy or universality. Nor does she try to mystify India or Indianness, in the manner that too many Indian writers do. However, there is certain superficiality about the novel that can be ignored by a person who wants to read an interesting story, well written and edited. Also, Singh doesn’t try to force the Indian idiom in her book. This adds to the smooth flow of the novel, specially keeping in view the class and time it deals with, but also tends to make the book a trifle antiseptic.

Circles of Silence could be the good read on a long train journey.