Apr 14, 2008

Ladies coupe

Six different women narrate their life experiences. They hail from different backgrounds but the one common thread that ties all of them is the influence of men in their lives. And it is this thread that becomes a point of discussion in a ladies compartment of a train journey.

The lead character, 45 year old Akhila takes up the responsibility of supporting her family after her father's death. A strict routine, day after day pushes her to a stage that her family considers her just as an earning member and not as a normal woman who could have feelings and would love to have a family of her own. She remains to be a spinster, searching for the answer if she could stay alone for the rest of her life.

In search of her quest, she boards a train to Kanyakumari where she happens to meet five different women. Janaki, the old lady whose son disrespects her but she believes that a woman can never live alone and that she is bound to be with a man; Margaret, the chemistry teacher whose husband illtreats her and tries to put her down in every possible situation through his harsh words; Sheela, a teenager who expresses what she truly believes but only to be shunt by her father for crossing the boundaries setforth in front of women in traditional India; Prabha Devi who comes out of her cocoon by being a rebel as per her own terms and finds her purpose in being afloat; Marikolanthu who is subject to unexpected twists and turns and her life goes beyond her control.

Each story has its share of sadness and I couldn't interpret if Akhila ever got an answer to her quest. I especially liked the character Margaret who is so typical and can be recognized anywhere in India - a working woman but never treated on par because of the ego clashes and the superior portrayal of her fault finding husband.

The author Anitha Nair has done her homework very well as the different characters are very familiar and can easily be reckoned with. The metaphors sprinkled throughout the novel are pretty intriguing. For instance, Akhila's strict and unchanged routine being related to her starched cotton sarees, Margaret's way of attaching the name of chemicals to different people she encounter, with her husband being the oil of vitriol - sulphuric acid, Marikolanthu's name which means being second to the real thing and how her life unfolds to match her name. A very detailed narration has made this novel a little dragging at places. But nevertheless, it was an interesting read.

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