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Nuggehalli Pankaja

Nuggehalli Pankaja : ‘Perfectly Untraditional’

Book Review

Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Perfectly Untraditional
Niyogi Books, 2011
D-78, Okhla Industrial area, Phase-1
New Delhi-110 020, India
ISBN: 978-81-89738-86-0
Pages 222 / Price Rs350

A real treat for psychiatrists

‘A powerful, riveting, perfectly unique exploration of the tangle of relationships that is the modern Indian family’ the blurb says.

Yes, as such, this novel is a real treat for psychiatrists with its characters striding silently through the maze of past present - present past as the hitherto trapped emotions race through. The switchover is subtle - at a steady pace, lending finesse to the style of narration. 

Undoubtedly the novel is well begun, with the storyline deftly revealing itself entirely through conversations - conversations somewhat clipped, sometimes vague, leaving it to the readers to piece together while the characters form out of these bringing into focus the undercurrent of conflicts - conflicts of feelings natural, conflicts of relationships caught in a whirlpool, conflicts of unsavoury situations, and clash of egos. 

Shaili, the heroine of the novel, had not seen her dad Suresh Kapoor after her marriage. Neither had he bothered to. “As far as I am concerned, Shaili is dead. You are my wife, and she is dead for you as well. Do you understand? You better understand” - His threats echoed not only throughout the house, but in Shaili’s heart also, increasing her loathing of him. In her eyes he was an absolute tyrant, and it was hard to get over the dread and insecurity which had tormented her childhood. That father figure of Suresh Kapoor seems to have sown deep-rooted dislike for men. 

But how long could a mother remain emotionally aloof from her child now stationed far away? Shaili’s close friend helps Meena Kapoor to contact her daughter surreptitiously. Feeling lonely, and dejected in that far away country – America - , Shaili had found solace whenever mother called; Throughout the mother had been the only contact, not even her sister Tanisha, which propels the readers to wonder and surmise. 

Anyway, that part is not highlighted, the crux of the problem being the powerful undercurrents swirling under the façade of father-mother-daughter relationship. Meena Kapoor emerges as a pathetic figure walking like a shadow through the pages. A vital part of her seems to have been submerged in the Pashan Lake.

This gives a new perspective to the whole scenario and her stand vis-à-vis the mother.

From as long as she could remember, her mother had made it a sort of ritual to go the lake and spend some time there. Ruminating? About what? She would particularly take Shaili with her, but not Tanisha. In fact, Tanisha was ignorant of that outing. Neither had Shaili told her or dad. In fact it had never occurred to her to be curious or question. It was only later on that the thought must have slowly surfaced - ‘What was the secret connecting mother to the lake?’ 

Yes, what was the magical cord which blinded and bonded Meena Kapoor to reality? For the moment? But she is jerked back when the husband follows her and confronts her. Apparently driven by a fit of frenzy, Meena seems to have committed suicide in that lake! The confused feelings of the husband who really loved his wife, and that of Shaili on learning the secret of the mother whom she worshipped, are very well brought out. The author has delineated them skillfully, using it as a bridge between the daughter and the bitter man. 

Here, it is necessary to mention certain passages and also bits of conversations which float through Shaili’s mind - conversations and incidents when in parents’ house. 

She believed today was the day she had to make amends. It wouldn’t be an easy task given her unpleasant past with her father, Suresh Kapoor. But it seemed the rain had washed away her animosity. Or maybe it was the fear of losing the only family member who was still alive and mattered. If Suresh Kapoor, after knowing the truth about his wife Meena Kapoor, had somewhere in his heart had forgiven her, Shaili too had to set things right. She owed it to him and her mother. 

And another poignant incident when he had forgotten her seventh birthday. She had bawled her eyes out, and suffered more when on returning home drunk, he had yelled at his wife for wasting money over such rich food. 

Of course he had repented the next day, but the rebuke, especially in front of her and his forgetfulness of the important day of her life had rankled in the daughter’s mind even after so many years. 

She had protested against her marriage. She had wanted to study further, and marry a man of her choice. But the father was adamant. Looked as though he wanted to shoo her off. Throughout he had been as strict with her as with his wife, not allowing them to wear modern dresses, forbidding them to speak to the opposite sex, and so on. 

And the small innuendos dropped by him regarding her mother, like - “Your mother has taught you nothing! You are just like her! Wearing short skirts and talking to men; I must end this nonsense or else you will become like your mother. . .” “Like the mother! What did he mean by that?” 

Now, after returning from America. No longer was Shaili that apprehensive confused girl begging for acceptance. She knew her mind and was not afraid to express it. For the first time Suresh Kapoor finds himself on the defensive. Barbed words fly back and forth around the Pashan Lake. The closing chapters bring a sort of healing touch when father and daughter make a sincere effort to explain themselves rather than justify their actions and sincerely try to reach out. It is clearly evident in their conversations given below: 

“But I am also an old-fashioned father and my child’s happiness is of utmost importance to me. I won’t condone your decision, but I will support you. You can count on me. I will be there whenever you need me. That’s what parents do - support their children’s choices even though they may not understand them.”

“ Dad, don’t you get it? That’s what I have sought my entire life - your acceptance. I am fine until you aren’t averse to me. We don’t have to always agree, but it would be nice if we could cordially disagree. You are the only family I have left, and I wouldn’t want to lose you.” 

Amidst all this, the tragic figure of Sadhill - the estranged husband of Shaili stands out like a pathetic figure. He is all that any girl would be proud of. Naturally reader’s heart goes out to him. 




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Ambika Ananth – Editorial Comment
Krishna Chakravarthy
Zinia Mitra
Jairaj Padmanabhan
Sandip Sahoo
Sasnarine Persaud
Shobhana Kumar

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