Book Title: What Will People Say? A Novel
Author: Mitra Phukan
IN her latest offering ‘What Will People Say? A Novel’, Mitra Phukan, author, columnist and translator (from Assamese to English), has very sensitively taken up a subject that is still a taboo in most parts of our country — that of a widow’s remarriage/relationship. The novel, through the life of 56-year-old Mihika, who is exploring a romantic relationship after the death of her husband, touches upon some pertinent and prickly issues that such a bonding still triggers in India, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas.
The prying and peering eyes and the cold and patriarchal high moral stands adopted — mainly in Tinigaon, a nondescript city of Assam where Mihika lives, and mostly among the elderly — are juxtaposed with the warmth exuded by big city dwellers and the young, both rich and poor, as they embrace the middle-aged woman’s right to seek happiness with a partner again. A financially independent working woman, Mihika, a Hindu, is gutsy enough to openly flaunt her beau, Zuhayr, a Muslim divorcee. But when her liaison threatens to derail Veda’s marriage prospects, she flounders.
While not undermining the new generation’s broad-mindedness in matters of the heart for all age groups, across class and religion, it taking a huge leap forward is not surprising. For, the youth of today have been raised in the age of Internet that has opened them to the global ways of thinking and eased them into banishing the archaic social norms.
Comparatively, the women of Mihika’s age group have very slowly progressed from the times of their grandmas and aunts, who if widowed were condemned to a life of misery, devoid of any colour or celebration, unless their son did well and cared for his mother.
In fact, young couples are even unabashedly questioning the concept of marriage itself if it is weighed down by the baggage of obsolete notions and taking to live-in relationships as a stamp of their commitment — without any eyebrows raised, at least in the metros of India. The coolness with which Mihika’s son Rohan, daughter-in-law Radha, daughter Veda and her fiancé Damo whole-heartedly support her and ‘Uncle Zuhayr’ form the bedrock of her new-found love.
However, the most heart-warming narrative, which gives the hope for a universal acceptance of the basic need of companionship at all ages, is the one involving the elderly that is weaved into the turbulent phase of Mihika’s life. A small but significantly refreshing change in the outlook among some discerning old men and women of Tinigaon puts the wind in the sail of Mihika’s resolve when she, in a weak moment, caves in to the high moral brigade, succumbing to the dreaded ‘What will people say?’ line.
Stories of single women of all ages all over the country breaking social barriers to find partners without the cushioning and convenience of situations in Mihika’s character should become a commonplace reality soon.