Dark Passions

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Perfect Eight  By Reema MoudgilWhat first catches your attention is the language. Descriptions like a bungalow’s white shoulders wrapped around in a bougainvillea shawl, or a slow river like the notes of a tourist’s harmonica catch your attention.  Then there is the story, Ira’s fascination with the handsome Samir which is drawn out through the book as the two meet and grow older. Will he won’t he is the question that teases the reader who finds herself slowly drawn into the dark awkward skin of the narrator, Ira. ‘I suddenly wondered whether all his life he had hungered for me or just himself in my eyes…’

Ira’s mother is a ‘rifuji’ from the Partition, rescued from a dog kennel in Lahore after her home goes up in flames and sent across the country to Kanpur where she is reluctantly brought up by her father’s friend. Refugees she is told are bad luck and she should thank her lucky stars for whatever kindness she gets. Growing accustomed to unhappiness being a way of life, Ira’s mother realises that “life never asked for one’s opinions. It did not recognise a woman’s desperate love for a house with sunlit, flower-filled balconies.” And she passes this  philosophy on to her daughter.  Ira learns to “smell grief before it struck”.

Ira sees herself as an outsider divorced from happiness, determined to spoil life for others through cutting remarks. And then she comes to Annaville, the magic plantation where her mother’s friend Anna lives.    “The days at Annaville bubbled away like a clear stream, gently washing over me. The frightened little animal crouching under my skin began to breathe in tandem with Annaville’s becalming heartbeat.” And it is at Annaville that meets and begins to fall in love with Anna’s son Samir.

“What is real about the book is the language and the sexual tension that it captures.”

As a background to this passion and enchantment is the theme of communal disharmony. Ira and her parents are Hindus living in a Punjab which is “choking on gun-powder”.  Bhindrawale is trying to persuade Sikhs that they do not belong together with Hindus and riots stir the place into ferment. Ira’s father Papu however holds firm to his belief that “Punjabis are not Hindus or Sikhs. They are Punjabis. You can kill them but not their love for their fields, their temples, their gurdwaras and each other.” Ira herself, stranded at one of Samir’s parties just after Babri masjid finds herself telling an anti Muslim guest that she is a Hindu who does not belong to India  “my mother was not born in your India, but what you now call Pakistan. The majority in Pakistan one day claimed her country, killed her parents and threw her at what remained of India.”

However communal disharmony is just the undercurrent – the core of the book would have remained the same without it. The main story is Ira’s love for Samir told through dreams and incidents and odd encounters, sometimes in far greater detail than the reader really wants to know.  Rather typically, Ira settles for an arranged marriage to Gautam who seems to be understanding but, for reasons known only to Moudgil, loses interest in Ira. Ira’s marriage is, in fact the weakest part of the book simply because Moudgil treats it as a kind of diversion and also because Gautam’s character is not fleshed out  – though his infatuation for his bureau chief Sarita in a way mirrors Ira’s hopeless love for Samir.

What is real about the book is the language and the sexual tension that it captures. It is in fact a voyage through the ups and downs of passion rather than a linear narrative and that is both its strength and its weakness.

Perfect Eight by Reema Moudgil

Published by Tranquebar in India

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Perfect Eight
by Reema Moudgil

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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