Friday, 10 June 2011

Kim's Review: The Collector's Wife

The Collector's Wife by Mitra Phukan is the first novel I have read, set in North East India and I thank Zubaan books for translating these brilliant authors into English, so more of us can enjoy their works.

The female protagonist, Rukmini Bezbaruah's husband Siddharth is the District Collector (administrative head of the district) of Parbatpuri, a small town in Assam. She herself is a part-time lecturer in English at the local college. Her in laws live in Guwahati and are busy with their own lives, as is Siddharth who is constantly on tour.

On the surface, she lives an extremely comfortable life in a government appointed bungalow, with plenty of household help, a chauffeur driven car and the respect that comes with being the Collectors wife.

However, her personal worries and fears are multitude - of not yet being a mother, her own thwarted ambitions of being a writer, a husband who seems to grow more distant by the day, her students who are involved in the Assam Students agitations, insurgency, kidnappings, illegal migration, extortion and the ever present threat of violence.

Her days are routine and empty and she finds no solace or company at the Mahila Samaj's (Ladies Associations) of which she is honorary chairperson or at the clubs where she and Siddharth sometimes spend their evenings echoing trite conversations.

It is in this scenario that Manoj Mahanta - a traveling tire salesman (albeit a manager) bursts into her scene. The excitement of meeting someone new, outside the government/academic circles that she normally moves in, brings a frisson into her life.

But the murders and kidnappings start occurring closer to home. The blurb at the back pre-informs you that the final denouement is horrifying and true, where the personal is so closely interwoven with the political, so you know that the ending isn't going to be pretty and the reader is constantly watching to see what could cause such a final denouement.

The novel twists and turns and Mitra Phukan uses some wonderfully evocative language that makes the book a pleasure to read. "she hitched up her mekhela chador as elegantly as the puddle in front of the gate allowed" or "she returned the hollow smiles of the elderly men affably flashing dentures and spectacles at her" "She deposited the large carton onto the brides orange and gold lap. What a relief it was to have got rid of that 'Keep Warm Casserole' at last" "Since there were no shops nearby, the daily household shopping trip had to be planned and executed with the meticulousness of an army manoeuvre"

Its a wonderfully evocative look into small town Assam at the heights of the student agitation and rebellion against illegal migration from across the border. It personalises what we only saw as newspaper headlines, 30 years ago.It delivers a message and imparts information on these causes, without being preachy.

Rating: 4/5

Mamani's Adventures


Sigma said...

Hi Kim,

I landed up on your blog recently while looking up reviews for this book (The Collectors wife). I read quite a lot of your reviews, and loved your blog.
I love to read, and have been posting about what I read (though I am nowhere as prolific as you in either reading or writing :-)). I found that we share some interests - I too liked 'The collectors wife' and 'Yajnaseni'. So I'd like to suggest to you Anita Nair, if you havent read any of her books before, specially recommend 'The Mistress'.

Kim said...

I've read Anita Nai's Ladies Coupe a couple of years ago and I really loved it. I think she has a special ability to verbalise the internal dialogues that most Indian women go through. I'll add Mistress on my wishlist.

I've promised the husband that I will read another 20 books, before I order any more. I went a bit overboard in my diwali self- gifting this year. Some women spend on clothes and jewelry, I spend on books and travel :)

Runa said...

Hi Kim,
Nice to read your review of the Collector's wife. While reading the novel myself I just wanted to know what other readers felt about this novel, that's how landed in your blog.

However, unlike you have said, this book is not a translation by Zubaan. This is an original English novel by Mitra Phukon. She is from Assam but has chosen to write in English. After reading this book I am happy that she has done this.

Anyways, liked reading your review.

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