Review by Geetika Vasudeva:
I laugh, I cry, I express, I hide, I love, I hate, I care, I bear, I make, I break. I, Woman.
A lot is explored, a lot is left. But nobody does it like Manju Kapur. In her first book, Difficult Daughters, she told the story of an audacious young woman falling in love with a man, who is not only her teacher but is also married, set against the backdrop of a pre-independence India. A Married Woman on the other hand talks about the different phases in the life of a woman, pre and post marriage.
The story, set in 70’s and 80’s, revolves around Astha, a talented painter, and the only daughter of a senior bureaucrat and a mother who is a teacher by profession. Astha’s life since beginning has been controlled by her mother, who has always imposed her decisions on her daughter. Like a typical mother, she focuses all her energy on moulding Astha into an ideal wife, daughter-in-law and a perfect mother. After two short lived affairs, Astha finally gets married to Hemant, an MBA from the US, with everything arranged by their parents.
Thus ensues, the story and the journey of a married woman. Though Astha has everything a woman can hope from her marriage- a responsible husband, caring in-laws, and two children, Astha still feels incomplete as an individual. Her ideas and opinions are perpetually belittled by her husband and her needs as a person are generally trampled by her responsibilities towards her family. Her life takes a different turn, when Aijaz comes to the school where she teaches. Aijaz a street play artist, asks her to develop the script for a play centred on Babri Masjid turmoil. This is the first time when Astha encounters a man who appreciates her talent and therefore feels drawn to him. Aijaz is murdered brutally while performing a play involving the issue of Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi. This is when Astha truly aligns herself with the cause, much against the wishes of her family. During all this, she meets a much younger woman Peeplika, a social activist, and thus begins a relationship that breaks all the conventions.
What truly distinguishes this work from other run-of-the-mill women oriented books is the almost realistic depiction of Astha’s problems and emotions. The book is studded with a lot of incidents one can relate to. Like the way, Hemant does not involve Astha in any of the financial decisions, the way Astha’s mother always blindly supports Hemant’s decisions, the way Astha is not given a separate room for her painting just because the room belongs to her sister-in-law who visits the house twice or thrice in a year and the way Hemant does not understand her feelings at all and still Astha has to carry on the charade of a happy married life just for the sake of her children and her family.
The other highlight of the book is Manju Kapoor’s beautiful description of Astha and Peeplika’s relationship. The reason as to why both the women need each other and the initial reluctance have been given a lot of detail.
Amidst all the high points of the book, it has its share of shortcomings. The mother-daughter relationship is very weakly established from the beginning. Astha’s feelings towards her mother have not been given a lot of weight, which was very much required for the story to be more concrete.
There are certain parts in the story which absolutely belie one of the sub-premises of the book. Her family has been shown to be taking all the important decision of her life on her behalf, still they don’t stop her from involving herself actively with the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi issue, which is a little absurd.
To keep it short and simple, for people who wish to know a little more about the women in their lives, this is a must read.