Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Curse of Damini: Nice try

For most part, the story revolves around the time when India was struggling for independence although except for the part where Gandhi is quoted and Renuka, the protagonist becomes a krantikari and bombs a British officer, the slavery and the struggle is scarcely mentioned. Renuka is a headstrong girl of 14, when her character is introduced. She meets the love of her life as she hides from the British police in a bungalow. Shashank, the gentleman every Indian woman wants, falls for this brave little girl on the first sight. He holds his emotions and shelters her and protects her till he drops her off at her house. This episode is long forgotten for a few pages until Renuka's maasi finds her an alliance with the son of a Zamindar family. One would think that is the stranger from that night but no. Lalit is a spineless guy who couldn't raise his voice on the wedding night when the groom's father, Nagesh Choudhry, rejects the girl for not producing enough dowry. To everyone's shock, Renuka voices out her anger when Nagesh insults her family. A girl arguing with a man is unacceptable, a girl insulting her to-be father-in-law is out of question. Everyone blames her and considers this inauspicious. That's when Shashank, who didn't know that the bride is his love at first sight offers to marry her. Shashank is full of secrets but proves to be a decent guy in every turn. Renuka and Shashank fall in a streotypical whirlpool of love very soon. Nagesh marries off Lalit to a beautiful girl Papia, from a nearby town. She is very fragile by heart and a caring person. The two girls get along very well. Lalit, who is a chain smoker, drunkard and a philanderer, abuses her and ill treats her.

Renuka and Papia have a terrible encounter with their mother-in-law, Ichamayi, who is mentally ill. She curses them and yells at them and swears to kill them. People in the village believe that she is possessed by the evil soul of Damini. Renuka and Papia learn about the curse that has befallen on their family. Hundreds of years ago, their forefathers and ancestors were serving the Nawab at the time and procured a lot of land. They were bullying everyone in the town and molesting the girls of the poor family for their pleasure in exchange for ration. Most of them had to give in to this atrocity to save themselves from starving to death. Some chose to die in dignity. One such incident cast a curse on the Choudhry clan. Damini, a young girl was used and abused by the then Choudhry. Damini ended her life to save what is left of her dignity but not before cursing the entire family and their generations to come. It is believed that Damini still lingers in the family and it is her curse that makes the Choudhrys suffer. No one is spared from the curse, or that is what the members in the family believe. Nagesh's brother died young, Shashank's earlier fiancees died young, Shashank's Kaaki-Maa has no chidren and Naresh (Nagesh's youngest brother) is a widower. Papia starts to believe that the curse is true and that Damini will get to her very soon.

Renuka, who is a logical and a practical person falls prey to the curse when she miscarries her first baby in Germany. Shashank and Renuka set sail to Germany for an assignment that Shashank undertakes. Catherine, her friend from England sends her a lot of books and urges her to write a story to divert herself from superstitious thinking. Renuka takes to writing and soon they forget about the miscarriage. They rekindle their love for each other at the fireplace. The voyage as well as their stay in Germany goes at a fast pace. When they get back to India, Papia is in a bad shape after giving birth to the twins. She ends her life after a lifetime of misery and depression. Lalit is remarried to Renuka's friend Mandira.

Mandira is a brave girl like Renuka. The author paints the contrast characters very carefully. Renuka is a very honest girl who wants to take the right path to her destination. She is a chirping bird when she is with her loving brother, a responsible fatherless daughter, a caring friend of Mandira, a dedicated wife and a feminist writer. Throughout the story she comes off as a great influence to many people including Mandira, at the end of the book. Mandira on the other hand has a bold personality and would go to any extent to have her wishes fulfilled. When she feels cheated by the Choudhry family for hiding the facts about Lalit's personality and Papia's death, she develops a hatred towards all of them. She controls and manipulates lalit using sex as a tool. After Lalit's demise, Mandira reaches heights in the world of business. Renuka's character is equally bold and strong but the difference in their decisions and opinions shows how much feminism can be misinterpreted. Mandira thinks it is a bold step to have a live-in relationship with Anirudh, Shashank's friend, Renuka thinks that what Mandira does with her life as widower is not anyone's concern. Both of them become very successful in their lives, one in literature and silk industry and the other in Fishery business and making money. Renuka is celebrated for her ideologies on feminism.

Renuka's literature work is spoken of in every other page in the story yet there is no focus on the story that she writes. Renuka's character must have a strong influence on the female readers, but it didn't. How will I be inspired by a girl who changes her dreams in every chapter of the book? First she wants to be a doctor, then she becomes a krantikari, then all she wants to do is be Shashank's soulmate and lover, then she wants to be a graduate, next minute she wants to be a writer, then a silk industrialist, a savious at one time, a philanthropist at another.

Actually, the book rubs feminism on the wrong side. Ranuka's desire to bear a girl child or her helping Papia out of depression is not really feminism. Giving a girl baby to most characters in the book is not feminism either. Saying "Her generous husband maintained a comfortable distance between them" during Renuka's exams or saying that "soon the men got into their discussion, giving ample time for the womenfolk to have some girlish time together" is not the right way to approach feminism. Damini has been wronged and there are so many Daminis and Nirbhayas since, not just in India but in every country. The book is titled, the curse of Damini yet the story of Damini is sidelined. I was expecting a horror story that would send chills down my spine but I got nothing. The rattling of window shutters in my room when I was reading was much more thrilling than this book. Renuka's achievements and aspirations are projected bigger than they actually are yet her achievements are not very inspiring. The author has tried to touch all points on feminism in one book but in vain. The inept writing style and the pathetic language adds up to the in-cohesive narration. When a lot of the words are in Bengali or Hindi, using thesaurus  on every English word in not advisable. At one point there was a French word! Most Indian authors write a book in foreign language (English is a foreign language, FYI) with no/less help from a language editor and dare to publish their work with grammatical errors. It is totally fine to write in one's mother tongue and have it translated to convey the message that one wants to pass on to the world.

P.S : Thanks to Goodreads and the author for the book.

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