Author: Sudha Murthy
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
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‘Shrikant was restless . . . Holding a bakula flower in his palm, he was wondering why he was fascinated by this tiny flower, that was neither as beautiful as a rose nor had the fragrance of a jasmine or a champaka. And yet, it was very special to him. It held an inexplicable attraction for him.’A quick word on the author...
Shrimati and Shrikant are neighbours and star students of their school in the small north Karnataka town of Hubli. It leaves no one in surprise when they come first and second respectively in the final Board exams. Soon Shrikant discovers he is strangely attracted to Shrimati, a plain-looking yet charming person, who always does better than him in the exams. Shrimati too falls in love with the amiable and handsome Shrikant and the two get married. Shrikant joins an IT company and starts rapidly climbing the corporate ladder. He works relentlessly and reaches the pinnacle of his industry, while Shrimati abandons her academic aspirations and becomes his uncomplaining shadow, silently fulfilling her duties as a corporate leader’s wife. But one day, while talking to an old professor, she starts examining what she has done with her life and realizes it is dismally empty . . .
Gently Falls the Bakula is the story of a marriage that loses its way as ambition and self-interest take their toll. Written nearly three decades ago, Sudha Murty’s first novel remains startlingly relevant in its scrutiny of modern values and work ethics.
First of all, I never knew that Sudha Murty even wrote. That makes me feel very uneducated since both she and her husband N. R. Narayana Murty are pretty well known out here. The husband-wife duo are very down to earth, and involved in philanthropy, besides managing one of the largest IT companies in India. My aunt knows of her from when she lived in Dubai, and I often hear the story of how they maintained their own bathrooms when I crib about doing my chores. Sudha Murty is the recipient of the Padma Shri award, the forth highest-ranking civilian award from the Government of India and a recipient of the N K Narayana
Gently Falls The Bakula was originally written in another language and translated into English.
Have you ever read a book in which the writing was great, but you didn't like the characters? Gently Falls The Bakula was one such book for me. The style of writing was simple and neat, a perfect portrayal of Indian speech. But the characters... meh. But maybe, it is a sign of the author's excellence that I feel so strongly about the characters?
Shrikant and Shrimati are both star pupils of their school and next door neighbors whose properties are divided by a Bakula tree. Their families are locked in a feud for the past few generations.
Shrikant and Shrimati offer each other stiff competition in school. One day on a train journey after they have passed out from school, they slowly start to get acquainted with each other. They fall in love, and the relationship stands the test of time and distance. They eventually get married and move to Bombay.
It is in the city that the marriage starts going downhill. Shrimati plays the 'perfect wife' in lieu of pursuing her passion and Shrikant rapidly and steadily climbs the corporate ladder, without realising that his family life is taking a hit. Will the couple find a way to mend their relationship or will they go on as they are, with Shrikant using his wife like a secretary and Shrimati finding herself unsatisfied and unstimulated in her role as the 'corporate leader's wife'? Or will they go their own ways?
I could completely understand the issues in the book, being an Indian myself. The ideologies, the family rivalry, the typical mother-in-law and sister-in-law vs daughter-in-law enmity, the misconceptions about educational qualifications, and the practices surrounding marriage and match making are all very familiar. Though Indian society is changing, antiquated thoughts still exist in the older generation.
I'm not very fond of the characters. Shrikant I had a very low opinion of right from the start, while Shrimati I grew increasingly frustrated with as the story progressed.
Shrikant is a self serving, wife-ignoring, my-job-is-my-life attitude holding male chauvinist. Think that's harsh? Well, the guy is an idiot. Right from the start, even at school, he does not consider Shrimati a worthy opponent & is shocked when she one-ups him at the board exams (I laughed gleefully :D Go Girls!). He allows himself to start a relationship with her only after he concludes that they are no longer rivals since they are in different fields. I often wondered if one reason he 'fell' for her was so that he could show himself that no matter how many times she beat him in school, ultimately she is completely dependent on him, and a simple housewife while he has advanced to the one of the highest steps on the ladder. But I have to admit that he did encourage Shrimati to pursue her Masters.
Shrimati is a sensitive, intelligent, quiet girl with a passion for History. At the end of the book, the couple is well advanced in their years, but Shrimati remained a girl in my mind. Shrimati loves her 'Shri' with all her heart. She wears Bakula flowers in her hair and sends him a few in their periodic letters. Shrimati has very simple wants. She just wants to have the love and attention of her husband, be accepted by her in-laws, and have a symbol of their love in a child. Unfortunately, the couple is unable to have a child due to a rare disorder. This loss greatly affects Shrimati. You would think that she would divert her attention to other things right? But no. It made me so mad when Shrimati just watched life pass her by when she had so much untapped potential. And all that she took from Shrikant before putting her foot down... Unbelievable. No woman is sopatient and doormat-esque. Then again, this is India we're talking about, and this book was written 30 years ago, so its understandable. But India's changing, Alhamdulillah :)
Symbolism plays a huge role in the story. Shrikant first notices Shrimati because of the Bakula flowers she puts on her hair. It is in the shade of the Bakula tree that the youngsters fall in love. The unassuming Bakula flower has an extraordinary property; it has a sweet fragrance, but when the flower dries, it has an even sweeter smell. I dont know if this is what the author meant, but his is my understanding of the Bakula's relevance to the chracters. Shrimati, like the Bakula is unassuming and quiet in her ways, though she is intelligent and passionate about several things. And like the Bakula, it is in her later years, after she 'falls' and had 'dried' that her 'fragrance' becomes sweeter and she comes alive again. And, the historic story of sage Bhamati that Shrimati narrates to Shrikant proves to be almost prophetic.
Overall, I liked the book, though I was peeved by the characters. Recommended if you want a glimpse of yesteryear Indian society and some interesting Indian History lesson.