From suppression to empowerment
Reviewed by Aradhika Sharma
Bonsai Kitten.
Lakshmi Narayan. Leadstart 
Publishing Pvt Ltd. 
Pages 291. Rs 195

Husbands, wives and compromises; Dominance and submission; approval sought and given or withheld; lives wasted with the wrong partner but lived anyhow with or without joy: That’s marriage! And that’s the relationship Laxmi Narayan explores through her book Bonsai Kitten. The name is quirky but it describes Divya’s (the protagonist’s) situation. The dark, delicate girl is chosen by and married to a man at a young age so that he may mould her to his liking. Divya is given into the custody of an insensitive, selfish person who denigrates instead of empowers; a man who destroys confidence instead of building it up.

Make no mistakes, this is not a weepy saga of a defeated woman. Although a bit scattered in tone — and the passages in italics don’t help the reading experience — the novel is a story of a woman who gets up after being smitten several times and in her own small way, liberates herself rather than allowing herself to go under after the perfidies of her husband in a foreign land. Along the way, she’s helped by friends and random people that come into her life. In fact, there are a lot of people in the book. Unfortunately, not all well sketched out, so the reader tends to lose track of who is playing which role.

Shobha De, in her foreword, says that the author finds ‘dark humour’ even in the most grotesque domestic situation and while, ‘most such books lapse into wifely martyrdom, in ways that alienate readers, (but her protagonist) still manages to do it without lapsing into maudlin sentimentality.’ That’s a relief, because to be subject to self- pitying marital litanies is tedious beyond belief, whilst the story a woman who can shake off the thralldom of a defunct and oppressive relationship, especially with flashes of humour, has a message of courage to communicate.

The novel moves from Delhi to Mumbai to Singapore, and is the story of a young woman, who belongs to an ultra-traditional South Indian family. Brought up on rules of what girls can and (mostly) cannot do, she gets married to Ramesh and moves with him to Singapore. During the course of her unhappy marriage, she deals with the loss of a child and marital betrayal when her husband leaves her for another woman and Divya is left to fend for herself in a foreign land.

The story is about the emancipation of Divya as she finds a new life, new work and new friends. She learns to explore her capacities as a woman who can give and receive love; and as a person who can earn her livelihood and live a life of respect.