Monday, November 26, 2012
Book Summary – Gently Falls the Bakula by Sudha Murty
Gently Falls the Bakula
Penguin Books India, 2008, 169 pp, Rs. 175/-
The book is about a marriage gone sour. Of aspirations suppressed for long. Of non-acknowledgement of silent support.
Shrimati and Shrikant are neighbours, whose families don’t get along too well. A tree of Bakula (a fragrant flower) seperates the two homes. They are class-mates up to the X standard. The ambitious boy aspires to be the school topper, but it is Shrimati, who tops, while he ends up second.
Shrimati is fond of History, so studies the subject, and Shrikant chooses subjects which enable him to ultimately pursue an engineering degree from IIT, Bombay after his XII standard.
Love blossoms between them during their higher secondary, but distance doesn’t diminish it even a bit. The bakula flowers are the attachments to her love letters, carrying the symbolic meaning that the fragrance of their love will never go away. The two would meet secretly on his visits to Hubli.
Both are keen students, but the reader gets to know of the seriousness with which Shrimati learns about History. She is the obvious choice for being a tourist guide to visiting professors.
The graphic description of Aihole, Badami and Pattalakkal encourage the reader to visit the places (in case they have not already).
Coming back to the story, Shrimati turns down a research scholarship offer from a foreign visiting professor, Mike Collins, just to get married to Shrikant. This is the first of the umpteen sacrifices she makes for her beloved.
Shrimati’s mother, Kamala, warns her that she will never be loved by Shrikant’s mother and sister and that every daughter-in-law’s desire to be appreciated by her mother-in-law will not be fulfilled in her case.
Shrikant holds ground against his mother who wants him to marry another girl. Shrimati makes it clear that what matters to her is his love, affection and companionship.
Shrimati has to put up with a taunting mother-in-law, who now gets a chance to get back at her enemies. But soon the bride leaves for Bombay to stay with her husband. However, as per Shrikant’s wishes, she sends some money for her mother-in-law.
Shrimati is reminded that her in-laws have no affection for her; she intends to continue studies but the scheming mother-in-law pulls one fast on her- she bluffs that she had borrowed a huge sum of money from an uncle (who had lent it in the hope of making Shrikant his son-in-law) and so she wants her son to repay the loan. His sister is the originator of this bluff, basically intended to put Shrimati in trouble. Shrimati gives up her idea of higher studies only to work (and also not in the History department) and help repay the loan. In return, she does not get even an iota of appreciation.
Soon Shrikant climbs the corporate ladder in double-quick time, and Shrimati is the silent assistant at home, more like a secretary at home. She once again puts her academic aspirations on hold to enable him to carry out his transfer; her motherly instinct is not satisfied either, because her husband wants to climb higher; she now has to put up with a new kind of taunt from her mother-in-law- 'being barren'.
The differential appreciation of Bhamati, the woman who was married to a sage who was writing a commentary on the Dharmasastra and who took care of him silently, is an indication of the things to come. Shrikant appreciates the sage’s concentration on his work, while Shrimati appreciates Bhamati’s silent support.
Amidst all this, she keeps in touch with Professor Collins whether in India or in the U.S. But her Ph.D. dream is still distant.
Meanwhile, Shrikant reaches the top management and their material well-being improves; Shrimati’s loneliness accentuates but Shrikant is adamant about not having children. She suggests adoption, which is also promptly turned down.
Now Shrimati gets lesser time with her husband, but has to play hostess to his official and personal friends, which she isn’t comfortable with, but does it to perfection.
Shrimati falls ill when her husband is abroad. She does not want him to know of her ill-health, as it can affect his performance. This goodness on her part is not acknowledged.
Prof. Collins' arrival in India brings her back to life, and she uses her time alone to take him on a tour of North India. The reader gets to know of Fatehpur Sikri, Ujjain and Mandu, before Shrikant recalls his wife to play hostess to his guests. Prof. Collins notices the sadness in her and advises her to take up the Ph.D. if only to rekindle the spark of happiness.
The pretence of official relationships which are made on the basis of profit and loss hits her hard. She does not enjoy ‘elite’ company, which always harps on expensive sarees, jewellery and other materialistic things.
She revisits their love letters; that affection requires only mutual love and intense faith, and not beauty or intelligence, is reinforced. And that is lacking in her life right now.
The reader is told through an office colleague that men work for money and then for power, which will require hard work and unconditional support from the family. Shrikant was lucky to have found an intelligent yet unambitious wife, and thereby became phenomenally successful.
Shrimati, in desperation, tries to get Shrikant to give her some time, but gets chided by him. She sobs, and remembers that a house is a structure and home is a place of feelings and relationship. This residence had no room for relationship! So, since she cannot return to Hubli, she decides to do her Ph.D. with Prof. Collins.
The parting conversation between Shrikant and Shrimati is extremely touching; I was overwhelmed. Shrimati tells him that he cannot put up with loneliness any longer; nor can she live with artificial values which eulogise materialistic success. She tells him that she had loved him and History and him more than her studies. When he lost finer sentiments, she lost him and was left only with history. She makes it clear that she’s not enchanted by the comforts he’d created and that she’s leaving him to find fulfilment. He had treated her as an ‘ornament’ in the social circuit and she cannot be content being just that. She opines that divorce is an instrument of remarriage and hence is not interested in it.
The novel ends with Shrikant looking back at his domineering self, and how cruel he was to his wife by not giving her due. He realises that he was the cause for her departure, but his professional nature gets the better of him, at the cost of his personal life.
The bakula tree, whose flowers symbolised the love between them, had fallen, sadly.
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