A Married Woman: Manju Kapur

Read this opening line of the book: Astha was brought up properly, as befits a woman with large supplements of fear. Manju Kapur's A Married Woman begins with great promise. Deftly with insight and wit, she captures Astha's growing up years. From a first crush to the once a month family outing to the Bengali Market chaat shop to plans for a house of their own….
Then Astha gets married and now Kapur's narrative acquires a faint tinge of irony. All very admirable again. Then Astha's life hits a plateau and so does the book.

Amidst the usual cornucopia of married delights : a husband given to 'babying' her breasts and little else, two children, a mother who's taken off to Rishikesh and spiritualism, and headaches, Astha the good wife, like Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, is hit by existential angst and therefore begins an internal rebellion. Astha starts to paint. Meanwhile her life continues from one bleak day to the next and the book moves from one dull page to the next.

Key to the plot is the Babri Masjid episode. If one's looking for a metaphor, here it is. A nation falling apart because of religious differences and the dynamics of power politics. A marriage falling apart because of differences that somehow can't be bridged. It is in this scenario that Astha as a politically conscious painter, by now part of the Sampradayakta Mukti Manch, goes to Ayodhya where she meets Pipee, NGO, widow and a lapsed lesbian. Astha by now the reader perceives is ripe for an affair. And who better than Pipee into whose womanly dyke arms she falls willingly…without having to endure the guilt of doing it with a man…if that isn't a cop out, what is?

Nothing wrong with the premise of the book itself. The problem lies with the characters. Apart from Kapur's portrayal of Hemant, the US returned husband which is masterly, the rest seem almost caricature-like. But even that would be easy to take, weren't it for Astha. I wish, Kapur had infused Astha with some of that muscle that Hemant has. All through, the married woman presumably Astha, drifts through the pages, an almost translucent creature with a faceless face. Making me wish I could give her a good shake and say: Get a move on, girl!


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