Green among red

The Green Rose
Sharmila Mukherjee
Penguin
2013, pp 212
250

Charulata Guha, of author Sharmila Mukherjee’s The Green Rose, is an accomplished, attractive young woman and a desirable match. Her parents begin to have plans for her — to see her married and well settled abroad.

But Charu seems hell-bent on refusing proposals after proposals, until the truth emerges that the young woman is interested in women, not men. The revelation shocks her conservative parents, and Charu herself attempts to hide her preferences, meeting with several men, and dreaming of a life of marital bliss for herself. Until, finally, she can do that no more.

The Green Rose attempts to tackle a very sensitive issue. Charu’s struggle to identify her predilections and hide them in a largely straight world forms the underlying theme of the book. Until she meets the apparently sensuous Shalini, who helps her come to terms with her own sensibilities.

There is that one theme the book tries to tackle, and Charu emerges from it in a strange way. For one, her lesbianism appears to form her entire identity. It moulds her character and her dreams, for she constantly dreams of lesbians.

Charu’s characterisation, her actions, her desires — everything moves around that single trait, turning it to an obsession. As a protagonist, Charu has very little individuality, save for her lesbianism, and even that is carried to strange lengths when she appears to be attracted to every beautiful woman she sees. Lust forms the crux of her desires and attractions.

Then there is Shalini, Charu’s first girlfriend, a married woman who has almost militant ideals. She is a woman who ‘always looked weather-proof: composed to the hilt’, a woman who does not even have a ‘small glob of mascara hanging like a stalactite from her finely honed eyelashes.’ Shalini introduces Charu to her green roses, those flowers that look out of sync among the red, but are still acceptable. Just like herself and Charu.

However, Shalini is not content to just have green roses bloom. As indicated in a letter sent to Charu, green roses are different, and they will persist. Shalini dreams of a day when the green roses will not only gain their rightful place in the garden of red roses, ‘but will also spread the green hue in the heart of red.’

Characterisation in The Green Rose is more or less one-dimensional. The main characters of the story are lesbians, and it becomes difficult identifying other personality traits in them because of the way they are presented. That holds true for nearly all the characters in the book, including Charu, Shalini and Laadli Chaurasia.

A ‘coming out of the closet’ experience in the book could have been handled with a lot more dignity. Charu’s woes, having to turn down hetero proposals, could have been poignant. Instead, as it stands, the protagonist seems obsessed with lust, and harbours an inherent inability to differentiate between that and a true romantic partnership. She also has fears of matrimony that border on the absurd.

For example, she wonders, while she wants domestic bliss herself, ‘What if she were to be married to a man and become one of the innumerable women who lost their sense of being?’ She also notices that her relatives and friends, women who were once beautiful, were reduced to ‘fat, kitty-party going, beauty parlour-visiting cackles of hens.’ The jerky style of writing does very little to aid her cause. In an attempt to be poetic, the narrative is sometimes bizarre. And that is one of the problems with the book.

A decent storyline with a strong, cohesive plot, convincing characterisation and a flow to the narrative, may have helped. Instead, The Green Rose is riddled with incidents, Charu’s growing scorn of the straight lifestyle, and an overall disdain of all things traditional. In short, The Green Rose, despite its claims of exploring the pains of the closet gay experience (that’s on the blurb), does very little of the sort. Instead, it begs the question…what exactly was the point?

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