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Interlude - Shruthi Rao

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When the Personal Becomes Political - Gita Aravamudan

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Robert's Rules - Melodie Corrigall

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Book Review

The need to be desired: Sita's Curse by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

-- Smita Sahay Karan

Publisher: Hachette India

Genre: fiction

Extent: 332 pp

Price: Rs 350


Mythology has pervaded our fiction aggressively in the recent years. From scholarly retellings to mythology-inspired-fiction, from Ashok Banker to Amish Tripathi, writers have created several genres and sub-genres. Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s Sita’s Curse, I had expected, would be another such book, possibly with a feminist theme.

The book starts as the story of Meera the teenager and her twin brother Karthik in a village in Gujarat. Meera is aware of her body and its possibilities, desire and shades of incest and lesbianism. And it is impossible to not think of Lolita.

As the book progresses so does Meera, through losses and tragedies. Possibly, Kundu wanted to explore how Sita’s desires would flow if she were in an unfulfilling marriage, sexually and otherwise. But unfortunately the plot does not lend itself to this.

Even naming the protagonist Meera and her husband Mohan mixes up too many unrelated references, to which the book does no justice.

The one sentence that comes closest to the theme of the book is, ‘Meera, you need to be desired, not loved’; the book does remain loyal to it in terms of the plot. Meera is a sexual being, often desired and often desiring.

The other theme is that of feminism, but this one is betrayed a number of times. The book starts with victimizing a teenaged Meera. The sexually-charged Meera is dumped and humiliated because her first ever menstrual cycle comes at the wrong moment. She is victimized further when she is married, since she does not receive enough love and respect from either her husband or her mother-in-law, mostly because she is unable to bear a child (a stigma in most parts of India even now), and further, sexually, at the hands of the family’s religious guru.

My further discontent with the book is that though it starts with breaking a number of rules, it runs into tons of clichés, reminiscent of Indian soaps. The fact that the mother-in-law is addressed as baa doesn’t help.

Meera is a beautiful woman because she is fair and slim. Her sister-in-law not so much, because she is fat. She is not a good person and is yet cherished more in the family. The pretty, helpless woman is pitted against an evil, ugly one.

Going back to the theme of desire, after the first half of the book the sexually explicit scenes are not warranted by situations but rather seem to be thrown in for the sake of titillation. Most of these, almost bordering on pornographic, do nothing to propel the story forward or bring out Meera’s predicament.

The one time Meera actually takes things into her hands to go and meet her cyber lover, she causes doom, though this is yet another cliché of a lonely housewife with some cash going out to have paid sex. The fact that this could have been given an altogether new spin underscores that the book could have offered a lot more. Possibly, Meera could have experienced completeness in her life after spending that afternoon with Ismail. Or even if Ismail was gone, she could have let that experience liberate her. Because a woman, after meeting and losing her cyber lover, must have undergone some change.

At times the narrative becomes repetitive, journal-entry like and lacks the charm of fiction. It is like reading the happenings in a person’s life, which might or might not have some bearing on the theme or the unfolding story. For instance, Meera being locked away and almost starved for having menstruated at the place where a pooja was to be held – or the undercurrents in the interaction between her and her fellow students at the English coaching centre do not say anything except that Meera is a sexually desirable woman. But then her interactions with her neighbours and numerous men in the book communicate the same thing. There is a phone sex scene with her husband, where she is sitting in her neighbour’s house and speaking to her husband, a salesman in a lingerie store. This scene, apart from not adding anything to the story, seems quite vulgar.

At times, the narrative brings in too many unbelievable coincidences:  Meera finally manages to meet Ismail on the day of the Mumbai floods. Right after he is lost to her, for some inexplicable reason, she finds herself face to face with his mother, who has travelled from Pune, looking for her son!

Writing about sex is a fine art. For instance, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is ‘far more than the story of a love affair: it is a parable of post-war England.’ Hoggart argues that the main subject of Lady Chatterley's Lover is cohesion between the mind and the body, for ‘body without mind is brutish; mind without body [...] is a running away from our double being.’ Similarly, Lolita brings out the irrevocable downward spiral of Humbert’s character and his lust for the vixen-heroine. In both the novels there are deep underlying themes dealing with women and attitudes to sex during that era.

Sita’s Curse should have stayed truer to its central philosophy and said something original about female sexuality. Unfortunately, the book does neither. It does not achieve a literary feat by pushing the boundaries of fiction. The book is a story of victimizing women, typecasting them and, in the end, it defeats its own purpose and philosophy.


Writer and poet, Smita Sahay, has had her works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry published in national and international journals and anthologies. She is currently co-editing, with Dr Charles FIshman, Veils, Halos and Shackles: International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women. She has also read poetry at Cappuccino Readings, an initiative by three writers, including Smita, to bring poetry into the cafe culture of Mumbai.