“Yes, the truth. It sets you free – but tears you apart first.”
These words could well be the pivot around which the story of Bhaavna Arora’s ‘Love Bi The Way’ hinges, the story of two modern young women, Rihana and Zara, who live in a house aptly named ‘Cupid’ in Delhi’s Greater Kailash, along with their adorable Labrador, Tiger. The two could not be more dissimilar. While Rihana is a talented artist, with strong views on marriage, sex and relationships, the gentle Zara, a businesswoman, suffers from a major depressive disorder.
Rihana’s irreverence and her apparent promiscuousness hide scars that have deeply marred her psyche. The refined Zara too has secrets in her past that have triggered off her health problems. “Both of them were two very different people. “ Yet, Rihana’s “happiness was so infectious that Zara thought she could find a true companion in her.” Zara is the yin to Rihana’s yang, both heiresses in their own right. Zara has inherited her father’s business after the breakdown of her marriage, while Rihana is the protégé of the renowned artist, Habib Ansari, and turns into the sole benefactor of his lineage and estate after he succumbs to cancer.
Despite the insouciance of the often frothy and risqué dialogues, a strain of darkness runs through the novel. There are episodes that threaten the frailty of the two women at times, and as Rihana puts it, “repressed memories are more dangerous than a snake in your bed... a very venomous snake”. While Rihana resorts to alcohol and wild sexual escapades for her release and throws people off balance with her startling comments, Zara finds solace in her work, striving for financial independence, as well as inner motivation.
The Maharani of Jodhpur, a client of Rihana’s art, auctions the latter’s painting for a stupendous sum of money that goes towards a charitable hospital for cancer patients. Zara has a short encounter with her handsome son, Prince Shaurya, at the end of which she comes to terms with what she needs to do in life to free herself from the shackles of her past. Rihana goes through a particularly rough patch, as a number of events conspire to make her particularly vulnerable, and she confides in Zara. The two comfort each other, “both equally vulnerable - one for having bared her soul , the other for having had a glimpse of the other’s love for her”. It is now that the significance of the title dawns on the reader.
Bhaavna Arora comes across as a modern, no-nonsense writer, but there are instances when her language reveals a mellowness all its own.
“She would have preferred to be a drop in the ocean and free rather than be caged in a bottle of wine like a pearl in its shell.”
At other times, the characters display a robust common sense, as when their beleaguered maidservant, Nandini, confesses, “When the wounds heal, memory fades.” Or when Rihana says ironically, “Thieves follow principles more than saints.” Some truths are spoken with underlying humour, as when Rihana retorts, “There is a dearth of both good men and parking spots in India. Both bloody close to extinction.”
The novel ends on a note of hope as both Rihana and Zara confront their fears and insecurities, even as the letting go of hate and guilt set them both free.