Monday, June 7, 2010

PERFECT EIGHT by Reema Moudgil - Read it you must.

There are many things that Perfect Eight by Reema Moudgil, holds for you.
The book in its 250 pages contains materials which you perhaps have tucked away in nooks and corners and deep recesses of your memory, hoping that you will never revisit them again.
Moudgil makes you remember them, go back to them and confront them as your realities, your own truths which you thought you have successfully concealed and which you thought nobody would ever know.
Moudgil reopens each hurt and the wound you thought had been healed and put to rest, and makes you tend to them like they should've been nursed before, and finally by the time you get to the end of the pages, she helps you to bring closure to everything.
But, I have to say here, you have got to be a woman, and a woman who has lived the four decades and a little more that Moudgil had lived, to know what I mean.

You have got to have been through displacement over and over again.
You have got to have been lonely inspite of being surrounded by multitudes.
You have got to be a child growing up in different parts of the country experiencing the same cultural, economic and sexual politics and you have got to be a teenager who dreams, for you to know what you have missed.
Who isn't that person?
To feel the scorching heat of the mighty sun which no one can dare defy, you have got to be able to bear the pain that Moudgil shares with you because it is also yours.
Above all that you have got to be born to parents who have been through the mindless separation of India in 1947, as those who escaped death to survive the violence that erupted at the time they were forced to leave behind their nests, their comforting worlds and flung into the abyss of search for someplace to go to which would be kind enough to embrace them.
You have got to be a child of one or two of those survivors of the blood soaked partition of India to know gratitude because you have got to have grown up seeing it in the eyes of those elders who thanked even the wind, the water, the snow and the rain when it layed seige on their souls yet left them alive in spirit.
Because in their voices while they taught you to walk, talk and then face the onslaught of the world was fear of the unknown.
Fear of the fury of not nature which is yet predictable, but man.

From far away, tragedy is bearable, but when so close to it that it is your own, it destroys you.
Moudgil also prooves you wrong in your belief that you are too weak to deal with the worst that you see mankind experience from a distance, because if you were made to go through it, you too like the rest of them would forgive it.
Which is why, the only dissapointment I felt while reading Perfect Eight which otherwise engrossed me in its compelling narrative to the extent that I am riveted, is when Ira swallows sleeping pills and tries to end her life. But then, that too is subjective, because I am only reading about Ira's life, not living it.
The rest of Ira's journey is like that of millions of us who would perhaps never have the courage to admit to the fact that we are so strong and so powerful that we can face anything.

When Ira gets married to Gautam because she thinks she feels secure with him and that her wedding to him would put an end to the pain of her separation from Samir who can never be hers, Moudgil actually narrates the story in false prose, something which I have never seen a writer do before.
As a storyteller, she lets you lose interest in Ira's relationship with Gautam because Ira is disinterested in it. And with the end of Ira's relationship with Gautam Moudgil gets you involved again because now Ira has hope. Hope that she will meet Samir one day and fulfill her longing to be his, even if just for a moment.
Moudgil never lets you down through the book yet surprises you at every turn of the page.

She takes Ira back to Annaville at Ambrosa which holds all of Ira's desires and dreams and even if only after Samir is engaged to marry Navya, and before he takes the plunge, Moudgil, takes you through the realm of Ira's passion and the fullfillment of her desire, leaving Ira unbroken and resolved to carry on stronger than she was before because for the first time after having made love to Samir all night long, she is able to recognize him for who he really is, as Moudgil sums up Samirs character in the second last page of her story where Ira thinks, 'I suddenly wondered whether all his life he had hungered for me or just himself in my eyes. If I'd ever been intended to play any part in his life at all. Or if I had been marked only to see him playing his."

From the partition to Misamari. From Kanpur to Ambrosa, to Mandi, to Patiala, Militancy in Panjab, Operation Blue Star, Floods, Riots, Bangalore and her own attempt to commit suicide, Ira's is a story of love and grief, longing and exploitation, haves and have nots, life and death, and women and men struggling with their desires and with the facts of what could have been.

Perfect Eight is the first book authored by an Indian Woman I have read in English which is unpretentious and real. Which is not attempting to impress you or begging for your sympathy but reassuringly taking you through the anguish and trauma of so many people in India who are dealing with the shizophrenia of a modern world v/s class and culture. Of tradition v/s survival. Of false values v/s stark naked truths of a crazed man shagging at your doorstep and then leaving a packet of condoms in your post box in a conservative small town where you are a single woman living with your widowed mother.
Moudgil portrays the vulnerability of a young girl waiting to get married to a compromised decision when her mother cannot afford a dowry which can buy her the man of her own choice. But then, I wonder if Ira would have chosen Samir if she was in a position to afford her choice, because Anu, Manna's daughter who could, went for a man much lesser than her.

Perfect Eight is the story of Ira, who represents millions of Indian women, who are educated and forward but faced with lack of opportunity on one end and the violation of their dignity at the hands of many Indian men who are yet to take the curve at the other.
When Ira is cornered by some guys in the gullies of Patiala and her breasts are exploited by the hands of the frustrated teenagers chasing her, I had to keep the book aside and reflect.
It isn't easy to live Ira's life, but then, haven't I lived it successfully so far?
I am liberated, not out of choice but compulsion?
The rest of the book for me was the journey through which I was able to bring a closure to all my pain.
Perfect Eight will do the same to anyone who reads it.
In baring Ira's soul, Moudgil ensures that you are healed at the end with a simple reassurance that you are not alone.

A TRANQUEBAR Publication at Rs 200, Perfect Eight is a must read for all.