Of love and aspirations
Aradhika Sharma

Gently Falls the Bakula
by Sudha Murty. Penguin Books.
Pages 169. Rs 150.

Gently Falls the BakulaTwo people fall in love, respect each other tremendously and get married against all odds—this is their story. Srikant, a handsome, bright young man from Hubli, a small town in Karnataka, and Srimati, his neighbour, are brilliant young things with the world at their feet. Both are completely devoted to each other. However, the misfortune of the couple springs from their differing aspirations as Srikant goes on the fast career track and Srimati sacrifices her career for his growth.

The allegory of the Bakula flower is used for Srimati who is a modest girl with tremendous capacities. In spite of her brilliance, she is a gentle and introverted girl. On the other hand, Srikant is competitive and the star student of the school they both study in. Like the Bakula flower, Srimati spreads her gentle and sweet fragrance over everything she comes in contact with. Srikant soon realises that the Bakula, which Srimati always wears in her hair and has come to symbolise, is his preferred flower too. The tiny flower "was neither as beautiful as the rose nor had the fragrance of the jasmine or the Champaka. And yet `85 it was very special to him. It held an inexplicable attraction for him."

In spite of an ancestral rivalry between the two families, the young boy and the girl daily meet under the Bakula tree, near their houses and celebrate the sweetness of their maturing love that lasts through university. Finally, in the face of parental opposition they get married. Srimati and Srikant now move to Bombay, where Srikant has a job.

Srimati, in the meanwhile, has not only developed a passion for history but is excellent at the subject too, with a chance to go abroad on a research scholarship. She, however, puts her own academic aspirations on the backburner and devotes herself completely in supporting Srikant through his fast-paced advancement up the corporate ladder. Somewhere along the way, though, she loses track of the Srikant whom she loves. He starts taking her support and care for granted, as he single-mindedly pushes forward on the path to higher and higher career achievement.

Srimati, from the person who had beaten Srikant in the Board exams, becomes his pale shadow, moulding herself to be the perfect corporate wife. Though she has lost track of her own ambitions, she doesn’t lose her quintessential self. However, one day, 10 years down the, line she starts examining her life and finds that she has really achieved nothing, not even the respect of the man for whom she has given up her own ambitions.

Gently Falls the Bakula is story that quietly examines the issues of the compromises that success in the corporate world demands from the family. It looks at matrimony that has lost its value as ambition and selfishness hack away at its fibre. The strength of the novel lies in the fact that it makes for pleasant reading. There are no complicated issues, no underlying plots, nothing that may divert the reader’s attention from the main story line, which is actually the only plot.

And that is the weakness of the novel too. It’s a single-minded narrative which gives a message, in which it tends to get rather simplistic. The characters are few, so there is none of the interplay of human emotion and exploration of human business that makes a novel truly great.

However, although the book was written about 10 years ago, Sudha Murty’s message remains as relevant today as it was a decade ago, in its observation of work ethics and family values that play second fiddle to success at any cost.

Sudha Murty, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, is a prolific writer in English and Kannada and has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories, three collections of non-fiction pieces and two books for children. Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages. She was awarded the R. K. Narayan’s Award for Literature and the Padma Shri in 2006.