Mohanty’s debut novel tells the life story of a female born in India during the British occupation, following her to modern times while chronicling her struggles against male-dominated Indian culture.
Renuka was an atypical Indian girl. Born during 20th-century India’s era as Great Britain’s colony, the determined youth became a freedom fighter against the British, even though females were conditioned by Indian culture to accept a passive role in society. Renuka’s outspoken ways and vocal opinions on the second-class status of women caused her trouble when it came to marriage, career, and family. Because her first arranged marriage fell flat, she found the passive Shashank as a husband, but she still struggled against traditions and beliefs that kept Indian women oppressed. Among the community, one such attitude held that her husband’s family was cursed and that ill fortune would befall the women they married. Although Renuka managed to overcome this and became a successful businesswomen and feminist author preaching better treatment for Indian women, she was occasionally reminded as she went through life that the old ways were not really gone, specifically the methods by which her good friend Mandira also rose to power with “newly bloomed ambitions.” While the book’s title suggests a story about an evil curse, the narrative is actually a broadside against the poor treatment of Indian women by men. “It’s really unfortunate to be born as a female in this world,” says Papia, one of Renuka’s friends. The author knows Indian customs and traditions and writes with authority about both. Renuka is a well-characterized bundle of contradictions, capable one second of giving Shashank an ultimatum in an “icy-cold voice” and desiring sex with him in the next. Unfortunately, Shashank is so passive as to seem unrealistic. Mandira, who’s as ambitious as Renuka but without a Shashank-type husband, uses guile and cunning—like Indian men—to get what she wants, yet she’s portrayed as vile and duplicitous. Readers might conclude that only through luck—the fortune of a failed first arranged marriage—was Renuka able to succeed on her terms.
This story about the second-class status of women in India doesn’t fully confront some of the issues it raises.