A flight of fancy
Ivninderpal Singh

One Afternoon
by Roma Bansal. Rupa & Co. Pages 250. Rs 195.

One AfternoonRelationships are defined by social norms and values. And those, which don’t conform to social order, are looked down upon and social actions come into play to ‘force’ the ‘offenders’ to fall in line. The story revolves around a relationship between two women who never come out in the open to challenge society and in the end part ways.

Life had indeed been generous to Ria Rathore. Overtly experimental and bolder than her peers, Ria was a buttercup for her father. Fiery and na`EFve Ria was quite comfortable in the company of boys unlike her friends. Her open lifestyle in a conservative city like Ahmedabad could have created trouble for her, but she continued to have her way until she graduated to college, where she met her Indian English teacher Radha Chatterjee who changed her life forever.

Ria was impressed by her "murderous expression" at first sight. Later, she came to know that she was married but lived alone. As time passed, she got attracted to her, so much so that her eyes would always search for Radha. But whenever their eyes met, she felt as if she was being ignored by her. This baffled Ria. To impress her, Ria started using the same perfume that Radha did and also got the same books which she saw in her possession. Gradually, Ria began to withdraw into herself. Was she in love with Radha? Was she physically attracted to her English teacher? As the story moves, the reader gets the answer to both the questions.

Always in her dreams, Ria wanted to solve the "Radha puzzle". She took the study route to get close to her and started taking English lessons from her. Her nights were filled with longing and anxiety for her classes with Radha. Slowly, they came close to each other despite differences in age and other factors. Later, an undefined but noticeable bond developed between them and both started enjoying each other’s company. Having coffee together became a regular feature.

Then one afternoon changed everything for both of them when Ria gave in to her physical urge and confessed to Radha that she was in love with her. From then on, both started sharing their secrets and Radha told her about her sour marriage. Not only that, Radha also became Ria’s guiding force and encouraged her to channelise her energy.

Though the writer has taken a bold theme, she has failed in making her characters bold enough to challenge social norms and values and live life as they like. Time and again both Ria and Radha discuss that their relationship will not be accepted in society. Nowhere in the story do they plan to come in the open about their association. They remain as student and teacher till the end. Finally, one day both decide to end the relationship (only because of society’s backlash) and limit their association to friendship.

The story ends in Bollywood style, with Ria (unable to bear Radha’s loneliness after their decision to split) going to Bangalore to look for Radha’s husband and unite them again. Knowing deep down that a beautiful phase is about to begin, Ria quietly moves away from Radha’s life.