An emotional journey
Reviewed by Aradhika Sharma

See Paris for Me
By Priti Aisola.
Penguin Books.
Pages 296. Rs 299.

THIS is a book about a woman coming to terms with an unfulfilled love. Itís a love that she rejects because she canít deal with the fierce passions that has the capacity to shake the foundations of her comfortable life, yet she canít do without it. However, finally she does.

Does the reviewer sound a bit irreverent and impatient? That maybe because the story of the female protagonistís dilemma is clear enough but the detailing is so long drawn out that the reader gets rather impatient and may find himself skipping pages. Yes, it is lyrical in partsóthe motion lulls the reader into a contemplative comfort. But that is also its inherent danger.

See Paris for Me is the story of a womanís emotional journey and a tale thatís extremely personal to Sadhvi, the protagonist. Sadhvi, who hails from Hydrabad, is married to Raghav, who works in Paris. They have a young son, Abhiram, whom they have left behind in school in India so that his academics donít get interrupted.

Sadhvi is an intelligent and educated woman, fond of the arts, literature and music. However, she has not adjusted to life in Paris. She feels slightly depressed and out of place in the city, where she is not really being able to find her feet and quite honestly, not even trying to. There is a vacuum in her life that is not being fulfilled by her loving and understanding husband. She misses her son terribly and there is a part of her that yearns for something more than the humdrum of life, something that will satisfy her soul and complete her. There is a vague searching within her, but she does nothing to satisfy that yearning, not even identify the cause of it. Maybe itís midlife crises. Maybe itís because she is not using her talents and her learning to full capacity and maybe she just feels alien in a foreign city. Or, as is mostly the case, itís a combination of all factors. Still, she is a charming woman, concerned about her family and the few friends that she has.

Then she meets Kanav, a scholar and teacher. His allure, combined with the magic of the city, shakes her out of her reverie. She is irrevocably drawn to him as he is to her. The magnetism between them is undeniable.

"For a few moments they sat there in silence fraught with the unexpressed. Their bodies were taut and alert, listening for the slightest message from the other, the minutest shift in energy from the other. Deprived of the will to move they sat next to each other in unquiet silence. The unspoken swirled around them in dizzy circles."

However, Sadhvi chooses to go the moral way and denies the fascination even though she acknowledges it to herself and knows that Kanav, too, is aware of it. He, on his part, while deeply in love with her, is not wiling to torture himself endlessly with discontented longings. He says that would rather "fortify myself and give myself up to other things passionately so that I can bypass desiring her and her companionship".

Thus, Sadhvi, the woman with a traditional upbringing, a thinking mind and married into an orthodox Brahmin family, takes the decision to not have the extramarital affair and the free spirited scholar accepts it. The rest of the story is about how Sadhvi deals with her own verdict.

The novel moves to Budapest and Hyderabad in parts. Hyderabad is where Sadhviís roots are, but she returns to bid the final goodbye to her grandmother. After her return to Paris, she also visits Budapest, where her dear friend Janaki lives. There are some charming moments between the two women, especially where Janaki oils Sadhviís hair and where they connect together to make a splendid, traditional Pongal meal.

See Paris for Me is not a fast-paced novel. On the contrary, itís a quietly told story with some tender moments, some touching ones. No dramatic lilts though because the feelings of love and longing are strong, they are tempered not with passion but with reason, intellect and morality.