The tragedy of trying circumstances
Aditi Garg

by Usha Rajagpoalan
Rupa and Co. Pages 334. Rs 295.

AmritaIntimate human relationships form the basis of a lot of literature. The treatment that the author gives to the emotions of the characters involved makes some works unique. Amrita is different and better in a lot of ways from the run-of-the-mill stories. It focuses on the love-hate relationship between two sisters. Usha Rajagopalan weaves a tale from the viewpoint of all characters.

The author of Get Published, is also a poet and short-story writer.

Her portrayal of a mentally challenged girl, in and as Amrita, through her childhood, teenage and youth till her tragic death is sensitive and hard-hitting. Her writings have won her the Andrew Fellowship in Fiction at the University of British Columbia and prizes in the Commonwealth Short Story Competitions.

Women form the prime constituents of any story that merits attention—as enemies, friends, neighbours and siblings. In this novel, the author chooses Gauri, an illegitimate child, as the protagonist. She wants to assert her birthright in the family of her biological father, but as the events unfold, she is not so sure about what she wants. She works hard at getting to know each member of the family and through them, her father.

She experiences how the same set of situations can work differently for different people. She realises that what might be the true for one member of the family may not be right in the context of another member. Amrita’s death is a burden that the whole family, including Gauri, has to bear. Kamala, as the submissive wife and helpless mother, narrates her story more as an outburst than as means of gathering support for her actions. Her initial rigorous momentum in training Amrita to grow up to be like the other kids is soon replaced with resigning her to her fate. Not before her relationship with her husband has been destroyed beyond repair.

Her younger daughter, Maya, who was to be the antidote for all their problems, becomes the toughest nut to crack. Her silence is her biggest enemy and also an unlikely ally. Maya’s character shows more shades than any of the rest. She is portrayed as a brat in her childhood and her relationship with Amrita is not always pleasant.

As she grows up, changes that are suddenly thrust upon her make her realise her folly and she comes back with a vengeance to set everything right between the two. Her conviction of her mother’s indifference towards both is so strong that words of healing hold no meaning for her. She becomes Amrita’s mentor and guardian. Her character succeeds in showing that kids like Amrita respond to selfless love and can lead a better life around those who care.

Circumstances can make the best of efforts fail. Raghu is Kamala’s husband, who wants to start life afresh after losing his love to someone else. Through the twists and turns of daily life, he finds himself back where he left. He is shown as a man who wants to enjoy life to the hilt and is stuck with a wife who is not interested in anything beyond the four walls of her house. Gauri tries to relate to him as a daughter, but fails to get her feelings across.

Gauri’s character is too sketchy for a central protagonist. Her relationship with her brother is shown to be superficial. Kamala’s ignorance about her daughter as they grow up makes one wonder if this is truly possible in real-life situation, but then, reality is stranger than fiction.

Maya’s struggle to come to terms with a special sibling is factually narrated. How she copes with the social pressure through her school time till the time she gets married is worthy of attention. The novel says that under a given set of inappropriate circumstances, people take dire steps that they might otherwise deem unethical and immoral.