Going round and round in the circle's flat centre

Going round and round in the circle's flat centre

Sharmila Kantha’s most recent contribution to the world of fiction after Just The Facts, Madamji, is the novel A Break in the Circle published by Harper Collins.Set in Patna, this is the story of a housewife, Anu, and her efforts to free herself from the quicksand of collective identity typical of Indian society by finding her own individual space and identity within the restrictive mould of a Bahu. 

With chapters written as days from a slice of protagonist Anu’s life, A Break in the Circle comes with an interlude and certain theme-based sections like ‘Pinky’s Beautification’. The days leading up to a guest’s arrival in the heroine’s home and the guest himself nudge her to consider a more individualistic take on life; life that she has always taken for granted. The interlude relates Srijana’s endeavour to empower herself through a women’s self-help group. Meanwhile, Kallu chacha fits the bill as the egotistical maniac uncle archetype, Gautam’s story unfolds reluctantly and Girish-Manvi saga ends like a serial episode; without incident.

The plot builds up with what seems to be an ordinary middle-class housewife’s interesting preoccupations: Kallu chacha’s urgency to get his daughter married off, Anu’s mother’s nosy nature, her maid’s umpteenth pregnancy, the suspense of Gautam’s visit to Patna and the e-mails from her husband’s professor Girish about his imminent visit to India. The milieu in which the story is set is calorific with its precise caricatures of the classic stereotypes done well without boring the reader. The same, however, cannot be said about the plot as it does not do justice to the build up. While the plot resolves all conflicts, it is in the execution of the conflict that it fails miserably. Be it Girish’s e-mails, Gautam’s brilliant solutions, Manvi’s myth or Srijana’s goat they all leave the reader with a feeling of premature demise. The book seems like a house bought for its beautiful landscaping, where the indoors are crappy.

While the writing style is competent and the narrative style interesting, with an epistolary style used to advance of the plot through the e-mails exchanged between Anu and Girish, it is in plot development that the center of this cake falls flat. The blurb says, ‘Set in small-town India, A Break in the Circle explores the relationship of an individual with her society in an India that is rapidly changing, yet unable to let go of its roots’. Be that as it may, Kantha scores little points for dribbling witty observations about familial and social politics of small-town India as the plot kicks a disastrous self-goal. Like many an Indian writer, Kantha is unable to break through to the world of uninhibited imagination and confident story-telling.  

The title, A Break in the Circle signifies the deviation that characters take from their predictable life trajectories to dabble with roads less taken, consciously or otherwise. From Nanni to Gautam to Anu, it is their little leaps of faith that help them break the mundane circle set by society.

‘This episode of the serial was over’ ends Kantha’s book; and it does feel like there is more to come. The book ends on a temporary note, with a climax that reads hastily-put-together-to-save-the-day all along. I would not discount Sharmila Kantha the writer, but the book could definitely use a couple of more hours of thought in the plot development department.

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