Monday, 5 July 2010



Anuradha's life revolved around her husband Pranab, her son, and the routines of a marital life in Patna. Other than the occasional visitors, there was not much in the young housewife's life till author Sharmila Kantha decided to add in more characters in Anuradha's life in the recently-published story A Break in the Circle.

Kantha, wife of a diplomat and herself a corporate consultant, has strong links with Patna. Through the characters in the story the author offers us bits of life in Bihar's capital city. I begin by asking her the reason to choose Patna for the story. “The story is set in a non-metro city of India and could have been any city. I chose Patna because it is familiar to me,” she replies. “But some characteristics of Patna have been included to introduce its ambience”.

The ambience gets slightly spiced up with the introduction of a professor, Girija, who was once based in Patna but later went to the USA to pursue PhD. It is rumoured that the professor left his native place owing to a failed affair with his female student. The professor --- erudite and well-meaning, as we understand from Anuradha's husband --- is now set to visit Patna after a gap of 20 years for a research work. And, he intends to stay with Anuradha and her husband. Interactions between the professor and Anuradha begins via the Internet and the young housewife begins to view the world around her from a different perspective. Interestingly, the readers never get to meet the professor in person.

Will the author define this professor as a catalyst to give voice to the suppressed 'inner voice'? “Quite correct,” says Kantha. “The professor is working on a research project on cross-cultural formation of self-identity, a rather unexplored topic. Anuradha's identity is framed by her interaction with her society. The email exchanges between the two characters reveal to Anu that her life is rather circumscribed by societal obligations. Also, the story of the professor's rumoured romance sparks a feeling of dissatisfaction in Anu,” the author explains.

Among the several characters, there is that of one Gautam whose wife remains depressed and the couple don't have a child. So they decide the adopt one. Gautam --- with his thoughts and experiences --- seem to be a parallel strand in the story. Gautam and Anuradha meet each other, but their thoughts don't appear linked. I ask Kantha to explain. “It is interesting that you picked up on this. I have tried to show that Anu and Gautam are somewhat similar in the way they observe people. But Anu is primarily just an observer while Gautam in contrast is a doer,” she replies. “Anu's contact with Gautam is important to her realisation that it is not enough to merely observe life, but be an active change agent as well,” Kantha adds.

As the sub-plot around adoption of a child unfolds, there are subtle references of background of a child. I ask Kantha whether she has deliberately tried to attract our attention to the caste issue. She says that “caste is not really mentioned” in the story. “It was more the closed community I wanted to bring across,” Kantha says, adding, “Also, I wanted to show adoption as a way of getting out of one's fixed comfort zones. It is all to easy to get entrenched in a certain way of life without looking for existing doable alternatives”. In this context Kantha says that her “style is more good-humoured satire on middle-class Indian propensities”.

The story doesn't seem to reach to any finality. Readers are left to imagine as Anuradha and her husband go to the airport to receive the professor from the USA. “The ending may appear incomplete but that is the way life is structured, with many things going on simultaneously, some stories getting resolved, others developing continuously,” explains Kantha. “It is enough that one episode in the protagonist's life ends as it does. Readers are too intelligent to have to be hand-held through a story”.

The author is currently working on a sequel to her earlier book Just the Facts, Madamji. “I hope readers will be able to appreciate the take on middle-class life in Delhi,” she signs off.