Ihad never read Sudha Murty before, so curiosity was what made me quickly agree to read and review this book. It is a simple and sparse tale, written in a simple and sparse style. Mridula, the heroine, is a naive, beautiful village belle who is clever, loves her carefree life in the village and is blessed with sensible parents. Sanjay is a young and hardworking doctor at Bombay’s KEM hospital, specialising in gynaecology. His mother is a petty moneylender, his sister is rapacious and Sanjay unfortunately has a deformed arm which affects his chances in the matrimonial stakes. The protagonists meet, first at a wedding (Sanjay as a guest from the groom’s side and Mridula from the bride’s side), where Sanjay accuses Mridula of trying to steal his bag, while really she was doing nothing of the sort. They meet again, in Bombay, when Mridula goes there on a trip and falls ill—and Sanjay is the doctor assigned to look after her—and falls in love with her.
They marry and settle in Bangalore. Mridula teaches, Sanjay works hard in a government hospital. Mridula is the financial bedrock and looks after the finances and Sanjay, at this stage of his career, is an idealist to whom money doesn’t really mean much. He hands over his salary to his wife, who gives him pocket money. This lackadaisical approach towards money causes Sanjay’s good friend Alex a great deal of anguish, and he tries to persuade him to begin private practice, which is much more lucrative.
There is also a supporting cast: the families of the couple, who play an important part in their lives—as families do in the lives of most couples in India. Lakshmi, Sanjay’s sister, thinks he ought to have married a doctor and not a mere teacher; Vatsala, who is Mridula’s sister-in-law, is hostile, but Mridula’s mother-in-law thankfully, is not the typical monster-in-law and urges Mridula to save a proportion of her salary every month. Life goes on tranquilly at first, Mridula has a son—and then Sanjay begins experiencing some of the frustrations that arise when you work at a government-controlled institution. He’s the victim of favoritism, is transferred, unfairly blamed for a botch-up and begins to wonder…Alex, his friend—who’s done a stint in the Gulf—is thriving. Push comes to shove and Sanjay decides to quit and start a nursing home in partnership with Alex.
He’s good at his work and the nursing home thrives. And Sanjay changes as he begins to reap the monetary rewards of his work. Money becomes central to his life; he learns how to keep the right people happy (by offering them complimentary services), and the money keeps rolling in… Mridula in the meanwhile has become principal of her school, but otherwise remains as charmingly naïve as ever, believing (according to her husband) that everyone in the world is as sweet and harmless as she is. But she has one core value as far as her marriage is concerned: there should be no secrets between husband and wife; the relationship should be based on absolute trust. And when she discovers that Sanjay has broken that trust (no, not with another woman, but with a monetary issue) the house of cards—and the marriage—begins to collapse.
Murty’s writing is stark and factual. Everything is spelt out clearly, so there’s no room for doubt or speculation. I was a bit disappointed with the dialogue; the characters tend to speak almost as if they’re reading out flip cards. There’s very little emotion in these pages—it’s all underwritten—no one throws a tantrum or gets hysterical; no one’s eyes flash and no one spits in anger! There’s very little (if any) humour, too, and perhaps too many little homilies. (“If a person is intelligent and an idealist then he will be a good teacher. And if a man is intelligent and selfish, then he can go to any extent to get money.”) It is a well-woven tale and Murty is always in control of her myriad characters. But I wonder how this tale would have been if there had been more “show” and less “tell”.