Another man’s wife, Manjul Bajaj. Hachette. 2012, pp 284, Rs 350
There is a quote by Rumi before the book begins in Manjul Bajaj’s Another Man’s Wife, a collection of nine stories, that says, “There is some kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of spirit on the body…” These words aptly set the mood for the rest of the book as one finds in Bajaj’s words the same passion that burns bright with the yearning for life itself. The author dedicates the book to her mother at whose knees she says she first learnt to love a good story well told.
And surely the book proves that the talent of storytelling has been successfully passed on from mother to daughter.
Each of the nine stories in the book is a tribute to the enigma, charm, strength, passion, pain and bliss of womanhood. Bajaj’s women live life passionately and love fiercely. The lover in the story ‘Ripe Mangoes’ doesn’t flinch from flaunting her feverish longing for her beloved before her own daughter who calls her ‘whore’ and tries unsuccessfully to make her feel guilty about her adulterous ways. But guilt is too weak an emotion to douse the fire that rages in two hearts in love. Besides, “After you inhabit the perfect harmonic note, what other music would you chase?”
The intensity of the content of Bajaj’s stories is ably heightened by her powerful language and narrative, making Another Man’s Wife an engrossing reading experience. She writes with great conviction that easily connects the reader with the emotions of her characters. While it’s the woman who is the real hero of Bajaj’s stories, the man is content in his role as either the worshipper at the altar of her feminine charm, or as a hunted animal at the feet of a roaring tigress, or as a failed crusader who is forced to swallow his pride as he realises that it’s him, not her, who needs to be rescued.
Bajaj’s women are too real to be portrayed in the stereotypical light. They refuse to let their right for living and loving to be crushed under the dead weight of morality and social norms. Kuheli in the story ‘Another Man’s Wife’, is one of the most engaging characters in the book and Bajaj’s writing prowess shines brightly as she brings this gritty protagonist to life. Arriving in the city in dire straits with her family after losing her land and home, Kuheli finds herself in a strange situation where she has to choose between life and her chastity. The story narrates how the hunter becomes the hunted as Kuheli turns the tables on the man who lusts after her and opens the doors of newer understanding within him even as she refuses to surrender to his desires for her.
‘Me and Sammy Fernandez’ is a captivating story set in Goa about a writer Cory Dinshaw who is trying desperately to keep her spark for life alive in the midst of a torturous relationship with her musician husband. The story interestingly draws parallels between Cory’s journey through her heartbreaking existence and the stinging realities of Goa hidden behind the lively music, parties and sunny beaches that it is so famous for. While ‘Marrying Nusrat’ is a teenager’s coming-of-age tale told with a lot of sensitivity, ‘The Birthmark’ is the story of transformation of Rajjoji from someone who attempts female foeticide into a crusader against the same.
‘Under the Moonlit Sky’ is about the bond between two couples from diverse backgrounds and how it impacts their lives in more ways than they had expected. ‘Crossed Borders’ is a story of Bahadur the gardener who is chosen to be a player in the destiny’s game of life and death involving four women, and how his life takes twists and turns in unfathomable ways before he can settle his own karmic debt.
Bajaj writes with an unbridled candour that takes the reader straight into the rich emotional cauldron of the lives of her characters. And one cannot miss the awareness with which she chooses her words that convey the meaning intended so powerfully. But then, like the protagonist in the story ‘A Deepavali Gift’ says, “If you don’t have the right words, it’s better to leave the squares empty.” Bajaj doesn’t have to leave the squares empty because she does have the right words to say, and says it with impact. Another Man’s Wife is a book written with a lot of heart and is definitely worth a read.