Friday, July 20, 2012

The Second Choice

Title: The Second Choice
Author: Lakshmi Menon

Author's blog: World of Books and Travel
Available on: FlipKart, Amazon (including Kindle) and other online stores and bookstores

Gist of the story on GoodReads: Pavithra was happily married to her sweetheart Anand and they have a three year old daughter. But most unexpectedly misfortune strikes and shatters her life.

A year later, Pavithra's father finds a suitable groom for his widowed daughter in Venu and she was forced to marry him. Venu is a father of a seven year old daughter and his paralyzed wife willingly divorced him and forced him to marry Pavithra, expecting to have a normal family life for them. Though Pavithra tries sincerely to earn her step-daughter's love and affection, she fails miserably in her attempt.

Do they regret their decision of this marriage and take a divorce, or decide to stick together? Will they fall in love each other gradually? Will their children have a secured life, as they had hoped?

My views:

This is a book about a woman of substance - Pavithra. The author, Lakshmi Menon has beautifully captured Pavithra’s growing maturity. From a timid young widow, totally dependent on her ageing father, she transforms into a person who is able to deal with the challenges of a second marriage, win her step daughter Indu over, continue to be a wonderful mother to her own daughter Anu, recognise the issues that her second husband Venu is dealing with and be a true sister to his first invalid wife Soumya. She learns to stand on her own feet not only financially but also emotionally and in realises that by giving back , one gets a lot more in return.

Both Pavithra and Venu enter into a second marriage, for the sake of convenience. Venu needs a mother for his growing daughter Indu and Pavithra’s father, makes her realise that her four year old Anu needs a father and she needs a husband to protect her. After all, Pavithra hadn’t even finished her graduation and would not even be able to find gainful employment anywhere.

Thus, begins their new journey. Venu is still in love with Soumya, his invalid ex-wife (she became paralysed during childbirth and divorced Venu, forcing him to enter into another marriage for his own sake and for the sake of their daughter). Pavithra wants to be forever loyal to the memory of her deceased husband and college sweetheart Anand. Thus, their marriage is just a platonic union.

Pavithra faces many challenges, Indu is brainwashed by a childless neighbour, who used to find solace in tending to Indu. There are financial challenges, Venu shies away from sending a monthly allowance to his ex-wife who needs the money for her treatment. Pavithra, does not like this.

She cajoles her father into sponsoring completion of her education and with the help of another kindly neighbour (in fact the only kindly neighbour, Mrs Joshi), Pavithra manages to find a temporary job in a bank, which later luckily translates into a permanent job. This gives rise to other problems. Venu doesn’t like her working. Is the real reason, that his role as a breadwinner is challenged? Or is it something else. Pavithra does some soul searching and realises, that Venu has fallen in love with her and wants to have a proper marital relationship. Moreso, she realises that she too has begun to care for and love Venu. A new chapter thus unfolds.

Then, there is a sudden twist in the story. I will not add spoilers by saying anything more, but Pavithra continues to be true to her ideals and values. She does find fulfilment, but by following an unconventional path.

The book has dealt beautifully with the entire range of complex human emotions and the interactions between not just Venu and Pavithra, but between all the characters in this book. The setting of a middle-class family in urban India is also realistically portrayed.

(Note for my blog readers from overseas: Marriages in India are different in various ways. It is the entire family who jumps into the fray, in arriving at the decision about whom one should or should not marry. Arranged marriages, where a marriage takes place after a few meetings between the boy and girl, continue to be the norm. Arranged-love marriages are the latest trend. Here the couple are introduced to each other by family elders, but the decision on whether or not to marry is left to them. Re-marriages, while on the rise, are not as common. The scenario is slowly changing).

Having read this interesting book, I decided to reach out to Lakshmi Menon with a few questions about her foray into writing, her inspiration behind this book and much more. Here is the interview.

1) Tell us something about yourself and your foray into writing?

I’m a bilingual writer,a native of Kerala and am settled in Bangalore. I began my writing career in Malayalam (regional language of my home state Kerala) and then slowly drifted to writing in English. I remember jotting down my thoughts in the form of stories as early as my teenage days, which prompted me to do courses in Journalism and Creative Writing, after my graduation (BA). I wanted to be a journalist, but ended up in choosing an administrative job, to give enough attention to my family, which gave me some free time to pursue my passion of writing - on a freelance basis and reading.

2) I understand this is your first novel, even as you have written children's stories and short stories earlier. How different was the experience of writing a novel?

Though The Second Choice is my first English novel,I have already published a novel in Malayalam, my native language. It was published about 20 years ago, titled "Veendum Yatra" in an esteemed magazine, as a continuous (serialised) story. When I got an interesting plot I wanted to write a story about it. As I started writing I found that it was going beyond the scope of a short story. Seeing my confusion, my husband advised me to express my ideas as it came without bothering about its length and breadth, and I was surprised to see that it was gradually taking the shape of a novel. But writing a novel in English was not that easy which took quite some years to complete it, due to added family responsibilities and lack of time.

3) What prompted you to write this book?

One day I came to know about a sad situation of a little girl whose mother was paralysed and her father was taking care of everything at home all alone, and her mother’s repeated requests to her father for a second marriage. The condition of this family, which I learnt about, was in my mind for quite some time until I decided to put it into words in the form of a story based on that plot and adding my own imagination.

4) Which is your favourite part in this book?

It is difficult to answer this question as many parts of this book are dear to me. Indu’s understanding of her step-mother’s love and Pavithra’s patience and self-assessment of her relationship are some of the parts close to my heart.

5) In this day and age, with increasing divorce rates (divorce is no longer a stigma) what is the essence of a successful marriage?

I agree with you. In today’s world divorce is increasing in an alarming rate, which is really a matter of concern to the society. I strongly believe that mutual trust, respect and understanding as individuals and partners of a life journey, taking major decisions together, forgetting and forgiving each other’s mistakes and shortcomings, frequent self-assessments in thoughts and actions, making sacrifices for each other, are some of the essential elements which can go a long way to make a marriage successful.

6) Do you think re-marriage is on the rise, especially among the older generation? Does it make sense, given that old age homes are coming up enabling people to live a comfortable life amidst others their own age and also be well taken care of?

I think re-marriage is on the rise not only among the younger generation, but among the older generation also. I don’t think anything is wrong in that concept. I feel that when an individual desires to have a companion in her/his lonely life, age shouldn’t pose a problem. But if an individual prefers to spend his/her twilight years in the company of the age group in a comfortable old age home, he/she should be allowed to take this decision. However, the elders should not be forced to take shelter in an old age home, by their children. That is very painful. On the other hand, if they prefer to choose a companion in the old age, that idea too should be well respected, without any criticism.

7)What are your future plans, in the writing sphere?

At present, I’m engaged in writing my next novel. After this, I would like to write a travel-related book based on my personal experiences. An educative book for the children is also in my mind.

Thank you Lakshmi for the book and for your insightful replies.

Source of the Photograph:
Downloaded from Flickr and used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License.


Lakshmi said...

Thank you Lubna for your amazing review of my book and also for interviewing me. I really enjoyed interacting with you.

Jules said...

Marriage traditions are interesting in and of themselves. It really is a relatively new concept for couples to choose for themselves in any country. And there are still Matchmakers employed today - not just the computer match sites! Blended families are also a topic that needs respect. And this sound like a book that handles this issues with character and grace. Thanks for an interesting review.

Dilip said...

Interesting review the story promises to be quite absorbing and the emotional complexities are so real.

Nice review Lubna. Thanks.

Jeri said...

I'm glad I found your blog. I've started reviewing books on a regular basis on my blog, so it's great to be able to visit blogs like yours for examples.

Lubna said...

@Lakshmi: It was entirely my pleasure to interact with you.
@Jules/Dilip Sir: Yes, the author has dealt with complex issues with great sensitivity
Jeri: Thanks for visiting. Likewise, I love to visit your blog and read your book reviews.

Geek Girl said...

Wow... this sounds like an interesting book. A good book that as a side benefit helps you learn about other traditions. Nice.

Susan P. Cooper said...

Hi, As always p, I found your article engaging and a very good read. I believe I would enjoy this book. Is it in english? Thanks again for a great review and letting us get to know the author a bit. :), Susan Cooper

Leora said...

Lubna, sounds like a tragic tale. I don't know how it ends, but I am hoping for some happiness.

"Arranged-love marriages", as you call them, are quite common among Orthodox Jewish families. I have seen some happy connections made in a similar fashion. On the other hand, there is sadly plenty of divorce or unhappiness as well.

The true story that prompted the author to write the book strikes me as quite sad.

Catarina said...

Interesting review of a book I believe could sell well in India and possibly in the Middle East as well.

Have lots of Indian friends, not to mention Middle Eastern with arranged marriages. Thankfully it's different for us Europeans.

Remember when my royal friends in Nepal and India explained to me about arranged marriages. My first thought was that I was lucky not to have to go through that. But the good aspect is that those marriages usually last.

The father of one of my Indian friends always had his mistress travel to the same place wherever in the world he was. And the wife was with him in the hotel or house they stayed. A bit too complicated for me:-)

Lubna said...

@Catarina: Complicated for me also. Fortunately, having a mistress is not the norm. 8-)

Susan Oakes said...

Looks like an interesting book Lubna and i love the way you add the interviews with the authors.

A.K.Andrew said...

Fantastic review Lubna - actually I enjoyed the interview with the author even more - both things together make it a great post.Thankyou

Patricia Weber said...

Lubna, it seems like where India's marriages were and where they are going might be playing out in the book. That's what I am going to deduce. Thanks for keeping the ending under wraps for us!

Loved the book review and the author interview even more.

Patricia Weber, LinkedIn Group BHB

Lubna said...

Thank you Susan, AK and Pat. Initially I did not interview authors, but realise that sometimes author's interviews are so very interesting and add value. Glad you liked the interview.

Destination Infinity said...

I don't like books that are based on the relationship genre, but your review is good. The concept of adding an author interview after reviews makes it very interesting.

Destination Infinity

Adeline said...

Quite interesting to find out that arranged marriages still happen to this day. In today's society, being involved in an arranged marriage can lead a lot of complexities that a good novel needs.

Lubna said...

@Adeline: Oh, arranged marriages are quite common, in India. But these are not 'forced' marriages. The girl does consent before getting married. Yes, this book dealt with the complexities very well. Thanks for your visit.

Aditya said...

I have read the story and its one of the best books I have ever read.

Thank You!

Lubna said...

Thank you, Aditya.

Bethany Lee said...

Ok, so I have been going through some of your reviews here since your most recent one of October 7--and I stopped on this one. Another novel by an Indian author. It seems you reviewed this immediately following Poor Little Rich Slum, which I read and adored. So, I am going to read this one too. I didn't realize how many of your reviews I missed. This morning I looked for a subscription to your blog via email, but I couldn't find it. If you don't have it, then I will bookmark it for now. In the meantime, I'm excited to read this book. Thank you.