Renuka Sharma is a dutiful wife, mother, and daughter-in-law holding the fort in a modest rental in Delhi while her husband tries to rack up savings in Dubai. Working as a receptionist and committed to finding a place for her family in the New Indian Dream of air-conditioned malls and high paid jobs at multi-nationals, life is going as planned until the day she strikes up a conversation with an uncommonly self-possessed stranger at a Metro station. Because while Mrs Sharma may espouse traditional values, India is changing all around her, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she came out of her shell a little, would it?
With equal doses of humour and pathos, The Private Life of Mrs Sharma is a sharp-eyed examination of the clashing of tradition and modernity, from a dramatic new voice in Indian fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Renuka Sharma is dutiful and respectable, and she tells herself this often, especially when she’s having an affair with a man she meets on the Metro to work every morning. She has big plans for her son and her family, if only everyone would just fall in to line. While her husband is away working in Dubai so that they can save money and make their dreams a reality, Renuka is trying to make their son perfect, the model student who will go on to the best university and work in an air conditioned office. Unfortunately her son does not want to work in an office, he wants to be a chef. Struggling with the reality of life now her husband is in Dubai and she has sole responsibility for their son and her in-laws, Renuka starts talking to a man, Vaneet who takes the same train as she does to work. Soon this turns to friendship and outings. Unfortunately her friend thinks things are more serious than Renuka, who denies that there is anything less than respectable about her behaviour, or his. She keeps telling herself she’ll tell him about her husband and son if he asks, except he never asks. When she does tell him, it’s too late. They’re having an affair and Vaneet wants Renuka to marry him.
It does not turn out well.
I quite enjoyed this book; written in the form of a diary we see that Renuka Sharma is a woman lacking in self-awareness, convinced that the shield of ‘respectability’ will protect her from the consequences. She’s trying to adapt to new circumstances in which it’s normal for husbands to work thousands of miles away and for married women to go out to work, while still holding on to her traditional beliefs about men and women’s place in society, and dreams of a better future for her son. The writing can be funny and yet the desperate loneliness of the main character shines through. She haplessly wanders in to an affair and then decides to take control of the situation. Unfortunately she can’t control the feelings of Vaneet, nor can she ‘fix’ her son. Definitely worth a read.