‘THE ONE THING I HAD WANTED WAS NOT TO BE LIKE MY MOTHER’ quite an unexpected way to start off a novel with a sentence like this & more unexpected is the way in which the book gets you hooked till the very end.
Set in the times of partition, Difficult Daughters is Manju Sharma’s first tryst with writing. The story revolves around Virmati, a woman ahead of her times or plainly a woman who dares to dream.
In a crux, it is a story of a freedom struggle. It is Virmati’s fight against her family traditions; against the age-old orthodox syndromes fixated with sub-continent women & against the society that so naturally expect her to follow the path of a sacrificing “ideal women.” And along with this, a similar plot progresses in the backdrop, that of India’s struggle for independence. And like in the end, both achieve independence but only at the cost of losing a part of itself.
Eldest among the eleven children, Virmati very well resembles a rebel of the 40’s. She grows up in a conservative Punjabi family of Amritsar only to fall in love with a Professor who is already married. A reason that is strong enough to disgrace the family & society. What follows is a tale of separation, pain, emotional outbreaks, an abortion & finally a marriage that doesn’t have a customary happy ending.
A thought provoking book, it really makes you think hard if it’s really worth going after one’s dream at the cost of losing everything in return & what if achieving that dream does not makes you happy. These are the strange questions one gets engrossed with after reading Virmati’s tale.
The love story between Virmati & professor is so real; you can almost reason out why they are taking a particular step. You know when they are taking a risk by meeting at a public place; you want to literally stop them from getting caught together. That’s the life Manju Sharma puts in her characters. Virmati’s character is so full of dilemmas & strange emotions that any modern women would identify with her, if trapped in similar circumstances. And there is a constant inner-conflict she is going through, attachment towards her youngest sister, fear of bringing shame to family & longing for Professor’s company. All these emotions exhaust her to the core. Even the Professor’s character, although a bit selfish, is very human. Frustrated from his wife’s illiteracy & open disinterest in his western ways, he finds a comforting partner & an enthusiastic student in Virmati.
The only thing probably missing from the plot is a bit of humor element that was much desired for. The story moves at a constant pace & a similar serious tone that makes it predictable at times.
Base-line You don’t have to be a hardcore feminist to appreciate this book!