Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Forever Vigilant

I came across a book called Forever Vigilant (Manika Lal, Times Group Books) recently. It explores an interesting mode of story-telling which is to delve into many what-if scenarios. Meena is a character that we have all encountered in our own lives (at least a certain section of us have) or in this age of television soaps, on screen. A young woman in a small town where friends bide their time after finishing school to get married, making her something of a trendsetter even in going to college. An indulgent, loving father, a matriarch of a strong mother, a brother that she has practically brought up as her own baby. Small pleasures and great sacrifices. Marriage soon after to a man who is dry and boring, bright and successful. His rages and his fury. The shrinking of the violet some more. Years and years spent in this lifeless life till the man in question finally meets his maker. As some point the reader starts to feel that this may be getting a tad too regressive. This is where the author pulls her little trick. She starts to go back and forth in time looking at the different possibilities that her protagonist could have encountered. A job as a school-teacher for a couple of years before marriage. Better life-skills, equipping her to take on what life has to offer. An attempt to understand her husband, the family, her new house, the search for alibis in the household. Discussions with her family, their unequivocal support. Making friends with the spouse.  

The book has other stories to offer. There is Nita, trapped in the daily demands of domesticity till the vivacious Aditi comes along and teaches her to look for happier consequences in her life by taking control over it. Anu, the reincarnation of poor, young, lovely Bano, a servant-girl from the era of the Nawabs. The secret garden becomes a metaphor for 'the happy place' that psychiatrists often urge their patients to visit, a place where all is beautiful and a strong male figure is there to take over life's burdens from them. It struck me at the time that while the book may be based in an Indian setting, the desperation of these quiet women is what we see in Lynette, Bree, Susan and Gabrielle in Desperate Housewives or in the dutiful wife of the sixties in Mad Men. At the same time, there is a strong urge to change things, to fulfill one's destiny. 

And then there is Sankalp, a four year old who'd rather not go to school, thank you, causing quite a flurry in the household. His family has to jump through hoops before a solution presents itself. We also meet Suprabhata, the small girl, trapped between warring parents, a father's outdated ideals of what comprises a happy life and a mother's unfulfilled ambitions. Here the school teacher is the wise counsel even as she herself learns to look for her own place in the sun. 

The characters are all quite believable and the narrative interesting throughout. A good read.

(This book is reviewed by Parul Sharma. Parul is the author of Bringing Up Vasu: That First Year, her second book By the Water Cooler will be in stores soon! She blogs at

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