Sunday, November 08, 2009

Book 3: A Breath of Fresh Air

The novel begins in 1984 at a train station in Bhopal, a small town near an Indian Army base.  Anjali, the main character and narrator of this section (most of the novel is narrated from Anjali's perspective but there are also sections from her current and her ex-husband's points of view), is waiting for her husband who is over two hours late to pick her up when there is a gas leak at a nearby factory.  Many people die as a result of this, but Anjali survives, though she will have health problems as a result.
From there, the novel flashes forward sixteen years to a day at the market where Anjali runs into Prakash, her ex-husband, the man that forgot her at the train station.  She hasn't seen him in years, and this sighting brings out different emotions in her.  She is currently in a very loving relationship with Sandeep, a local professor, and they have a son together.  However, their life is far from perfect - as a result of Anjali's exposure to the gas, it caused some issues with her reproductive organs, and her twelve year old son Amar is dying of lung and heart problems.  Her disapproving sister-in-law lives with her family and money is tight due to all the medical bills.
As the novel progresses, more is revealed about the past and Malladi shows Anjali and Prakash's marriage from both their perspectives.  While Prakash was incredibly mad at Anjali when she filed for divorce due to his career, he has since seen how horribe he was as a husband.  However, his bad behavior still doesn't excuse her decision in much of society and her parents' eyes: as an Indian woman, she was supposed to stick with her husband no matter what, even if he didn't love her, didn't respect her or cheated on her.  Obviously it was her fault for not being a better wife, and not sticking it out.  As a divorcee, Anjali is a rarity in her surroundings, and she and Sandeep have not told their neighbors about Anjali's past life.  Anjali's decision was incredibly untypical for a woman of her background and upbringing.
As a result, seeing Prakash brings up questions about the decisions she has made - while she is happy with Sandeep, she has still felt the occasional guilt and pressure from society about her choices, and through the course of this novel, she deals with these feelings.  I actually enjoyed the novel quite a bit - from the way the novel began, I wasn't sure what kind of relationship Anjali and Prakash had once had, but given Sandeep's occasional self-doubts, I definitely thought it would be different from the one described.  There were no miracle cures or anything, so overall, the novel was about people dealing with the choices they've made and the hand they've been dealt, and whatever happiness and sadness that comes along with life.

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