Ms. Kalyani Rao makes her debut with the novel “Bubble Wrap”. She has written short pieces so far. She is very fond of travel and you can see that in the book. The book is written in the style of memoirs. There are no long narrations and it generally maintains a brisk pace.
|Harlequin India (First Edition edition (23 July 2014)
|To be published on around 23rd July 2014
|Purchase @ Amazon.In
Bubble Wrap is an attempt to highlight the fragmentation and divide that most of the India lives with. The story is told by Krishna, a twelve year old village girl, who gets married off to a fourteen year old boy Shyam Singh. The next eleven months of her life suddenly exposes her to the “real world”. The title is significant in many ways as it indicates that Krishna’s life – beautiful and breakable like glass – has so far been in the “bubble wrap like” protection of her parents, but now she has to go out. It also signifies the bond that two girls share throughout the story as they try to shield each other from the evils of the world.
A beloved and only daughter of loving and sensible parents, she has enjoyed a happy childhood. A normal childhood where the biggest worries are not being able to complete the homework in time or falling off a swing. But although her parents love her, they still live in a very closed community and are bound by prevalent social norms around them. And accordingly, they arrange her marriage to the wealthy and prestigious household of Sudhir Singh in Rokhagadh.
Krishna is very close to seventeen year old Gudiya, who is the widow of his late cousin. Gudiya’s life is as colourless as her clothes. She is neither beautiful nor very clever, nor educated. She came to Krishna’s house after marrying her cousin and has been the subject of anger and neglect since her husband’s death in an accident – a typical Indian widow who is considered a bad omen. Krishna’s parents have been very kind to her and when Krishna gets married, they decide to send Gudiya with her until Krishna is old enough to be on her own.
Krishna comes to Rokhagadh and soon falls in a pattern of life there. Shyam singh has gone back to his school in Jaipur. Krishna’s father-in-law Sudhir Singh is a drunkard and womaniser. Soon it becomes Krishna and Gudiya’s daily routine to wake up in middle of night to witness scenes of domestic violence. The household is vast and everybody leaves Krishna alone. However, Sudhir Singh’s consort-cum-maid Mohini tries very hard to torture Gudiya by giving her difficult duties in kitchen. Krishna’s mother-in-law is kind but powerless. Krishna slowly learns that Sudhir Singh is under a heavy debt and is looking forward to financial help from Krishna’s father.
The biggest source of enjoyment for Krishna is her father’s weekly visits when she can become his darling daughter again and forget about her in-laws. He takes the girls out to the fair and lets them enjoy pleasures of childhood including rides and shopping. Krishna now also has a tutor who comes in weekly to teach her – mostly mathematics.
But this not happy but comfortable routine soon ends. On the Diwali night, Sudhir Singh rapes Gudiya. While they all try to cover this up, in a few months they discover that Gudiya is pregnant. Sudhir Singh does not care about anything as long as the child is a boy. But the doctor declares that Gudiya is having a baby girl. Now starts the physical violence and abuse against Gudiya to get rid of her and the child for good. She turns to Krishna’s father for help, who declares that he is taking the girls back. However, he is killed on the same day.
At the best, Krishna feels bewildered during all these. She is young and unexposed enough to not understand the man-woman relationship. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to Gudiya. But, with her heart of gold she is there for Gudiya and wants to resolve all her difficulties. After Krishna’s father’s death, the girls have to return back to Sudhir Singh’s house. Mohini arranges for Gudiya to go and work in a bangle shop which is actually a source of recruiting “girls-in-trouble” to prostitution.
When Gudiya and Krishna realize this, they decide to run away. With lots of difficulty and some help from Krishna’s tutor they sell Krihna’s grandmonther’s jewellery to raise money and manage to leave Rokhagadh disguised. But, Sudhir Singh’s men catch up with them on the train. The girls somehow escape and arrive to Delhi, penniless and with no idea where to go. Imagine these two, a seventeen year old pregnant girl and a twelve year old pretty girl – with not much education and no notions of how to survive in a city like Delhi.
But it is in the times of difficulties that one realizes one’s inner strength. The girls go to an old couple’s house in need of a domestic maid. Gudiya takes on the job with a target of saving enough money to get Krishna back to her mother. This however is not to be. The old lady is kind but her husband tries to molest Krishna while nobody is at home. Krishna escapes but it means they are shelter-less and penniless again. They go to the Police Station for help but are turned away and end up instead at Karim bhai’s place which is a glorified brothel. Karim bhai promises to take Krishna back to her mother in Gwalior, if Gudiya will stay and work for him.
Gudiya finally gives in when she realizes that Krishna is in danger now. Her beauty and virginity are prime attractions in a place like this and the earlier she goes away the safer she would be. The plan is set, but before they can go, masked men arrive to kidnap Krishna. It looks like fate is taking this young, pretty and clever girl to the darkest caves of life that are full of people worse than cannibals.
The story is moving, and it has the innocent undertone throughout as it is told by a young girl. The narrative swings between seriousness and misery to small pleasures and naivety. It provides a very stark contrast, when you learn that Krishna knows how to use internet and is fond of watching Bollywood movies, but not aware of the notions about child marriage. She seems to take it very casually with no resistance at all. Are parts of India still this backward?
Sitting in a comfortable home with a 24 hour access to internet, it might be hard to believe that the deep pockets of India may have mobile phones and internet, but not a real education or awareness of individual rights – It is still inside the suffocating bubble wrap of customs. The author tries to balance this but falters at some places as the characters appear fragmented and inconsistent.
All in all, this book is a nice attempt to raise awareness about the current state of young women in India. It is a call to all parents out there to educate their girls, let them make the choices of their life when they are mature enough, let them have a chance to discover who they want to be. And yes, the book is not for everyone. Those who like to read for entertainment, may not like the book. You need to read it with open mind and be ready to witness (the mention of) some strange stuff which is bitter but occasionally true.
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