To sum it up in two words, Manjiri Gokhale Joshi's Maya is compulsively endearing. The story of her no holds barred vulnerability, spanning as little as 143 pages, begins with a blistering lament over the class divide that separates her from her upper crust friends. The deep-rooted bourgeois regret harbours a stronger resolve to cut her umbilical roots, which inherently demands a meek surrender to the patriarchal canons of a love marriage. Maya is all too keen to make all the sacrifices - from shunning a promising career without second thought to playing the devoted homemaker without a sigh - for the coveted socialite tag. The derailment that happens on the other side makes Maya a beast of burden before paving the way for her resurrection and redemption - from playing Maya to being Maya.
The author's literary style is inherently cinematic in the way she astutely joins the dots and makes deep meaning, after having interspersed seemingly tangential details in different chapters. The potency of the author's prose, though, struggles to match the superlative quality of her introspection (the 'said Maya, thought Maya' litany, verbal false limbs and occasional redundancy could have easily been weeded out). But the sanctity of Maya's invigorating tale of trials, tribulations and triumphs makes up for everything else. Thanks to the author's dignified poise, the story is not reduced to a one-dimensional feminist rant, which is a given for books of this genre.
The reader is kept gainfully engaged, thanks to the enduring appeal of sparkling characters including Charu Batra, Bua, Maya's dad, Malathy, Urja, and even a seemingly marginal player like Neelam the maid. In comparison, other key players like Maya's mom Sunayana, Rahul, Viv and Kay remain blurred at best. Despite the vivid descriptions, the methods and motives both on the L.H.S. and R.H.S of certain equations only punctuate the tale with imposing questions marks. The eminently unforgettable character of Baba certainly deserved more attention; the build up fails to capture the intensity of the cumulative angst that has him do what he brutally and fatally does, no matter what and how much he has had to endure for years.
The author's elaboration of the chosen familial and vocational milieus is surface-level, which does not go beyond a passing mention of the Delhi lingo and the muddled summation under generic heads like 'IT industry' and 'IT company'. A deeper probe into the peculiarities of both backdrops would have gone a long way in highlighting the poignancy of the protagonist's tale.
This book, with its reflective epilogue, is an in-born screenplay trapped in book form. Watching Maya suffer, question, come to terms with, and celebrate life can become a spiritually elevating experience on screen, provided a competent filmmaker steers the adaptation.
Several lines from the book leave the reader positively intrigued, long after you are done with the read. Citing a few would certainly not merit a spoiler alert:
"...Maya had no choice but to identify herself either as the wife of the man she had loved deeply or the daughter of the man she hated. The love and the hate both hurt."
"In fact, the Charu experience once in a while gave Maya a sense of reassurance in the consistency that she had sought so desperately and had not found."
"Maya carefully wrapped each piece and placed it in a box, the snapping sound of thick sticky tape sealing each possession. The memories refused to be sealed away."
World-renowned sprinter P T Usha's back-cover copy is undoubtedly the best endorsement of Maya's ethos and pathos that renders the logos besides the point.
"Women run, not just on the Olympic track but corporate peaks, reach pinnacles of success in the arts and have not been spared the Mars mission. But then come relationships and partnerships on the home front where even today, it seems wiser to pause and check that everyone is running with you. But is that really wise?"
© Sudhir Raikar