There is no escaping the fact that blue eyes and a lone dimple can play havoc in the mind of a woman! Especially a woman like Sangita whose life so far has been no bed of roses. A delicate beauty, she has never known real love, as her husband, Giridhar, keeps her teetering between apprehension and unhappiness. The only gift he gives her is her son, Sandeep, who is the centre of her universe. When he conveniently dies, she is far from devastated.
However, she cannot escape the curses and the barbs thrown at her by her parents who are stuck in a time warp, somewhere in the beginning of the 18th century. Her mother, Radha, especially, makes her life a living hell, blaming her for being a widow, forcing her to believe that her life has come to an end. “A woman’s place is with her husband, Sangita. She has no respect if she stays away from him."
So when, at 25, the beautiful and vulnerable Sangita comes across the devastatingly attractive Gautam at the hospital where she works, she is overwhelmed. Her mind refuses to accept the fact that this Adonis could be interested in her. "Brown hair with golden streaks, very fair skin, Indian features till you catch his eyes. Electric blue." She describes him, thus, to her sympathetic sister in law, Rekha.
Gautam, who is at the hospital because he has fractured his arm, is bowled over by the lovely lady in simple pastels, who refuses to allow him any liberties. He wonders whether she is a figment of his imagination. "She was like a butterfly fluttering near a flower, ready to take flight at the slightest disturbance.
Gauatm realizes that it is difficult to break through Sangita's defences. In her mind, all men are chauvinists, looking down upon women in general.
The relationship between Gautam and his grandparents, Ganapathi and Vimala, is a delightful one. They dote on him, and there is a playfulness that comes across, revealing the deep affection that they bear one another. Having witnessed the vicissitudes in Sangita's life, they also have "a soft spot for the young woman who carried the troubles of her small world so bravely on her slender shoulders."
Gautam plays his cards carefully. He decides to make friends with Sandeep first. "One thought dominated the child’s mind. He urgently required a father to set his grandmother’s mind at peace."
Does Gautam succeed in breaking through Sangita's defences? What roles do Sangita's brothers, Rakesh and Raghavan, play in the whole plot? How can stark conservatism and traditional mumbo jumbo be overcome? What is the ploy that finally breaks the camel's back?
Sundari Venkatraman is a storyteller par excellence. Her narrative flows like a stream, with all its little eddies and waves; never once does the flow stop, and this is the skill that comes through in all her books. One is compelled to continue reading till the very end. The writing is natural, never forced, and the very simplicity of the plot keeps the reader hooked.
Another plus is how the novel is so well grounded in Madras. There are references to the social evils that were prevalent in the past, but never once, do these take away from the love story that is the hero of the plot. Kudos to Sundari Venkatraman for having sustained the tempo of the story without once turning preachy!
Verdict: An affair well woven into the fabric of Madras, with all its features and foibles!