In Mehrotra’s novel, a passionate affair with an old love transforms a writer’s marriage and life.
Though it started out well enough, Medha and Rishi’s arranged marriage has been less than satisfying. After being disappointed to find that her college crush, Nikhil, didn’t return her feelings, Medha married young and settled into a mundane life with Rishi, who seemed to take her for granted. She finds happiness writing fiction in her spare time between running their household in Delhi and caring for their son, Yash. As the years go by, she finds herself less and less physically attracted to Rishi, whom she resents for failing to understand how much her art means to her. Their marriage is strained even further when Rishi’s job with a computer company demands that the family leave India to relocate to Oman. While there, Medha completes her first novel; she’s thrilled when it finds a publisher and seems poised to be a big success. At a launch party, she’s shocked to be reunited with Nikhil, who’s now an advertising executive in an unfulfilling marriage of his own. There’s still a powerful connection between them. Certain she can no longer bear living in Oman, Medha returns to Delhi without Rishi, and they separate. Medha and Nikhil begin an affair, with their passionate lovemaking inciting an emotional awakening that transforms the way she views the world and her past relationships, including her parents’ troubled marriage. Meanwhile, Rishi, traumatized by Medha’s abandonment, begins to reflect on his own shortcomings as a husband; he vows to win her back. This exploration of compromises and challenges in marriage may resonate even with those foreign to the arranged-marriage custom. Mehrotra also offers a nuanced portrait of an adulterous affair: Medha and Rishi aren’t blameless in the disintegration of their marriage, and Nikhil isn’t a cad or a knight in shining armor. Though the novel focuses on Medha, several chapters are written from Rishi’s and Nikhil’s points of view, which helps illuminate the differences between Medha’s idea of herself and her marriage and the way the men perceive her. Rather than dramatizing the emotions, characters’ reflections and their internal attempts to sort out their own feelings tell much of the story, which may disappoint some readers. A light copy edit would help, too. Nonetheless, Medha is an engaging, introspective character, and the novel avoids the common clichés that often attend stories of adulterous love triangles.
A mature novel about love and marriage in modern India’s middle class.