Book Review: Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair

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Ladies Coupe is a feminist novel that explores the roles and the rights of women in Indian society. The novel focuses on Akhila, a forty- five- year- old spinster, who is on a journey to ascertain what a woman can and cannot do. Weighed down by the responsibilities thrust on her as the daughter, sister, and breadwinner; she feels herself sinking into the morass of life unable to give vent to her womanly desires. In the ladies coupe of The Kanyakumari Express she encounters five women-Janaki, Margaret, Sheela, Prabha Devi, and Marikolanthu—women who belong to different age groups leading starkly different lives.

But unlike Akhila, these women are able to assert themselves and take control of their lives. Ladies Coupe is a remarkable novel that probes into the deceptively simple problems that women face. Here Anita Nair weaves together the threads of life of five diverse women forming a tapestry that is both melancholic and sanguine. She delves into the illusory nature of freedom that women generally experience meditating upon the feasibility of complete freedom.

This novel made me reflect on what it is to be a woman and the choices we have and whether we should restrict ourselves to the choices available or break barriers. Captivating and inspirational, this novel will definitely make you turn to yourself and think about the decisions that have been taken and the decision that are to be taken.

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A Secret Life

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A red balloon bobbed gently in the cold night air, the girl holding it was laughing, her eyes twinkling with happiness. The father, a tall, sharp-looking man, and the lanky, bespectacled mother looked at her with a faint smile on their faces. The traffic thinned and the bus moved and the sight was replaced by rows and rows of compact but ugly apartment complexes which rose into the sky like thorns. To anyone who had seen the trio, they would have appeared to be the perfect little family. But I knew that behind the most convincing smiles were hidden the angst of years of quarrels and misunderstandings.

My parents never got divorced, it is taboo, unthinkable at that time we live in. They just weren’t on good terms, they couldn’t talk about anything without it turning into a full-fledged screaming contest. But the real reason reason was that they weren’t right for each other. During the time when the fights abated, they would tell me that it was okay as I was the only good thing out of the marriage, I was the reason that they never went separate ways. I was used to my dysfunctional life, what was dysfunctional to others was normal to me. Nobody had any clue that my family was in pieces, except for my immediate relations. It was amusing that most didn’t know, and would never know, it was like living a shady, secret life inside the four walls of the house. I never was the moping kind, wailing and moaning about why my family was like that. But then I was just too familiar with that life to start complaining about it. It was hilarious how well they acted outside, what finesse, what subtlety, some performances were just astounding. Of course I laughed alone, nobody understood the joke.

I disembarked from the bus and made my way to the Chinese restaurant at the corner of Ashok street where my parents were meeting some friends for dinner. I hurried, my handbag swinging beside me, eager to play my role to perfection.

Coffee Love

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They entered the coffee shop exhausted from the day’s work at the IT Park. The interior of the shop was painted a soft brown colour. The yellow ceiling lights on the brown walls created a perpetual dusk, some Expressionist paintings adorned the walls interspersed with witty coffee quotes. The Western instrumental music which played continuously in the cafe was drowned by chatter and the clinking of cutlery. The aroma of freshly ground coffee wafted from the kitchen stealing its way to the customers, heightening their craving for coffee. Rekha plopped herself on a comfy chair at a table next to the entrance, Rita sat opposite her.

“Nothing beats the smell of coffee! I wake up to take a whiff of this wonderful beverage.”exclaimed Rekha adjusting the pleats of her saree.

Rita laughed at her friend’s addiction to coffee.

A waiter dressed in a white shirt, black coat and pants appeared to take their order.

“Two capuccino and two croissants, do you want anything else Rita?” asked Rekha.

“No… this would do”, Rita replied.

She waited until the waiter left their side and then leaned her elbows on the table, eager to tell her friend something that has occupied her mind for days.

“You know Rekha, I really am in love,I know it. I just feel so happy, so light, it’s like I am floating among the clouds. I have never felt his good in my entire life. I find myself smiling at everything and that too for no reason, it’s like I have lost my mind… Am I making any sense to you?” Rita asked, an embarrassed grin on her face.

Rekha listened to her friend with a sad smile on her face.

“What’s with that smile of yours? Aren’t you happy for me?” Rita asked with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

Two steaming mugs of coffee and two plates of the pastry were placed on the table with a slight display of gallantry by the waiter.

“Of course I am, I am just afraid of what will happen after…”

“Oh my God Rekha, just because you got divorced, doesn’t mean that the entire world will be filled with divorces and heartbreaks!” said Rita with her hand on her head.

“You can never be too sure. Maybe even love has an expiration date, the day when love sours and turns into hate. I don’t know Rita, I don’t intend to be such a killjoy, but I will tell you this, nothing stays the same. When I married him, I was over the moon, but then years later, it became mechanical. There were days when I felt strange and uneasy. My life was just reduced to a mere routine devoid of any sentiments, any palpable feelings. I woke up in the mornings, cooked, went to work, returned home , chatted casually with my him while having dinner, slept; the same routine on repeat, it was mentally exhausting. Love had disappeared from our life without our own knowledge, like a candlelight that dies out in the day, you don’t notice it initially but then eventually you realize. We got separated on amicable terms. I was hesitant at first, you know, being an married woman in India I had to consider not just what I thought of myself, but what the society would think me if I separated from him. Anyway we got divorced, and that’s the end. But the absence of love when you recognize it, is unsettling Rita.”

“So what are you saying? Not to fall in love? No, you just said that the absence of love is unsettling. Honestly it is like you talk in circles all the time.”

“Nothing. I am just letting my tongue get the better of me. You really should be friends with girls of your age. I am like seven years older than you” , sighed Rekha as she stirred her coffee.

“Okay, stop being such a nag grandma. Just be happy for me and we will just see what happens next”, giggled Rita.

“Meanwhile let me enjoy my evening with my true love, coffee” , said Rekha as she sipped her favourite beverage.