Here’s an excerpt from Vinita’s debut fiction, 31 Miles. Published by Rupa (Nov 2016), it has caught the attention of the bibliophiles and reviewers alike. The Huffington Post recently carried a feature on her. This novel is about the protagonist Mansa, who has a perfect family. Till one fateful day when she finds herself embroiled in a passionate affair—with an online lover. And then everything falls apart. Her book blurb says, “31 Miles is a story of a woman who rediscovers herself after marriage, and works towards self-emancipation. Will she give it all up for the elusive mirage created by the stranger? What turn will her life take next?” Here’s this week’s Book Extract to promote authors and writing in English, in the Global Participatory Social Journalism Platform, Different Truths.
Sapna too joined in, “Life is too short and who knows? Maybe we all live once. We should not suppress ourselves so much.”
“Although I don’t agree with Sapna that we live only once, I do agree we should be true to ourselves and must do things that bring us and others happiness. So it is decided that you are coming,” Tushita laid it down crystal clear.
Mansa knew she had lost this battle, and since she so wanted to attend herself, she gave in willingly. When Pratap, however, suggested that he would ferry her to and fro, she politely declined saying she would be more comfortable with her driver.
With the matter finally decided, as she sat in her car, she asked the driver to go home via the mandir. It was a Monday ritual she had never missed since childhood. If she didn’t find time in the morning then she always went to the temple in the evening. Under her grandmother’s influence, she had always felt a special reverence for Lord Shiva.
On her way home she was making up her mind to finally attend the party and was also considering what gift to carry for Simran. She had discussed with the rest of the group. They were all planning to carry different varieties of exotic wine. Mansa was in two minds as she had never gifted anyone alcohol before. She thought it would be best to discuss it with Abhijit. She gave her head a rest and drifted to sleep as the car glided smoothly.
The day of the party finally arrived and Mansa wore her prettiest maroon sari on Abhijit’s advice. She was carrying a nice maroon perfume as a gift though Abhijit had also suggested that a bottle of Wine makes a perfect birthday gift.
As she entered the pub she found herself in a room full of strangers. But very soon she was greeted with compliments on her sari and appearance by her new friends and felt comfortable.
She was sitting around a table with Sapna and Tushita and was soon joined by Gary. In a couple of moments Neena and Pratap arrived hand in hand too. They also joined the group. She again felt Neena’s cold gaze scrutinising her.
She was relishing her snacks and a tall glass of Mojito, for which she had picked a recent liking. Nice music, sometimes classical and sometimes contemporary both in Hindi and English rang out from the dance floor. The party was in full swing. Many people including Pratap and Neena had made it to the floor. Simran joined them on their table and introduced them to a special friend Vinod. Simran and Vinod appeared to be the
Nice music, sometimes classical and sometimes contemporary both in Hindi and English rang out from the dance floor. The party was in full swing. Many people including Pratap and Neena had made it to the floor. Simran joined them on their table and introduced them to a special friend Vinod. Simran and Vinod appeared to be the cohosts as they ensured that everyone was comfortable enjoying the party and then drifted to greet and mingle with the other guests. Soon Gary and Tushita also got up to dance. Sapna and Mansa smiled at each other enjoying the music. Many folks had invited them to join the dance but they were not up to dancing and were enjoying chatting with each other.
Few people had remained seated conversing. Most had gone to dance. Laughter flew from all directions and suddenly a conversation from a nearby table caught her and Sapna’s attention. Sapna smiled and took her forefinger to her lips. Softly she said, “This is best pass time, eavesdropping and an interesting topic on, keep quiet Mansa and listen.” Mansa quietly turned and looked; the adjoining table had three male occupants and a female. They all seemed a little older than herself and Sapna.
The lady whom everyone called Sri, was saying, “Marriage as an institution has outlived its utility. We still stick to it. And any deviance from it is punished very strictly by society and even causes stigma only to women.”
Another voice whom everyone called Chaddha said, “You are right Sri. It is not fair when people travel so much and meet new people all the time. No big deal getting attracted to another person after marriage.”
A male voice joined Sri in support saying, “Totally Sri. Attraction to new is the natural instinct of the animal called human. When marriage came as an institution life expectancy was forty to fifty. Today people live up to ninety and spending over sixty years of life with the same person is not easy by any account.” Now it was Sri’s turn to stare at the man who had uttered this. Poor fellow was probably her husband and she screamed, “Are you tired of me? Tell me?” And the man shocked at her outburst, cajoled her, “But darling, I was only supporting your premise.”
Sapna and Mansa looked at each other and smiled at Sri’s outburst.
There was another character on the table that everyone referred to as Brigadier. He smirked and said, “Sri, whether you like it or not, I dream that ten years from now I would want to settle in the Caribbean with a local beauty.” To this, Sri retorted sardonically, “Yeah I must share this good news with your wife Chandra first thing in the morning. By the way, why hasn’t she come?”
“You want me to be honest?” the brigadier parried.
As Sri nodded he went on, “Believe it or not when we are at home, Chandra says that she hates most of my friends and has had enough of them for over twenty five years and now no more! And she also says she would rather watch something on television, or read and then eat and sleep early than waste time with my friends.”
Mansa who listened attentively thought this Chandra seemed so much like Abhijit. May be the only difference being, Chandra hated partying and had toed along with her husband for over twenty-five years before protesting and Mansa would have loved partying but had none of the opportunity as Abhijit hated partying. Life is weird she thought in her heart and where
is the harm in following what one likes sometimes.
Gary and Tushita were back on the table. Neena and Pratap were still dancing. Mansa looked at her watch. It was almost eight thirty. One and half hour had gone so quickly thought Mansa. She wanted to head for dinner soon after cake although rest of the gang still looked in a mood to stay on.
They all made it to cake table and straight after cake cutting Mansa went to fetch her dinner. Sapna looking at her uncertainty in staying back any further accompanied her for dinner so as to leave as soon as they would have finished eating.
Mansa and Sapna left while the party was still on. Sapna asked Mansa, ‘could you please drop me back home as I had to send the car for children’. Mansa was only too happy for her company at this late hour of the night.
On their way back, Sapna complemented, Mansa, it is so hard to guess your age. You are very lucky. Mansa smiled and saying thank you asked, how old do you think is Simran?
Sapna, ‘I am not too certain but anything from thirty six to forty two’. And they both giggled together at their guesswork.
Mansa asked, “Any idea what led to Simran’s divorce? How long back was it?”
Sapna, ‘Yeah actually, Neena told me. You know of course that they are both very thick and golfing buddies’.
Mansa: “yes of course I know.”
Sapna continued, ‘According to Neena, Simran’s in-laws were very propertied and influential people. Simran and her husband did not have a child even after over fourteen years of marriage. And there was pressure on her husband for a second marriage’.
Mansa was horrified, “But that’s illegal and even inhumane” she exclaimed, aghast.
Sapna, ‘thus divorce; I guess that was the only option left. She couldn’t have stayed in a marriage where her honour and self respect were threatened constantly by the idea of bringing another woman who would bear him a child. Good that she left them.
Mansa agreed, “Good she walked out.”
Sapna added, ‘She has recently gotten into a relationship with a college time sweetheart whom she wanted to marry. Her parents did not let her marry Vinod because he was not as well off as Simran’s family. So today’s party was special, a kind of celebration. Poor thing is so scared of marriage. Vinod wants to marry her. But Simran wants to wait’.
Mansa felt so shaken. Even in this age of advancement some people only thought of women as an object of use and a child bearing machine that can be thrown if found un-functional. Their wishes and aspirations had very little value when it came to prioritizing it over a male family member, whether a sibling, a husband or a son. She thanked her stars for a caring and understanding husband.
Vinita is an award-winning sociologist and a social entrepreneur. She is an alumnus of Delhi School of Economics.
She has founded a nonprofit organization, AAMBRA Foundation, with a vision towards women empowerment. She is also the chief architect and brain behind, ‘She Speaks’, a triannual seminar series dealing with the issues faced by the contemporary South Asian women. She is also the founder of AAMBROTSAVE, an annual cultural festival, which brings to the fore literature, visual and performing arts, crafts, cuisines, weaves and many waning traditions of India.
Vinita has a passion for literature and writes fiction and non-fiction, bilingually. She has recently released her debut work of fiction, 31 Miles, in Nov. 2016. She has vast experience, working for women’s rights and empowerment, which has brought her in contact with hundreds of individuals who aspire to emancipate themselves economically and socially using channels of education, awareness and work ethic.
(Contributed by Vinita Bakshi, Author, 31 Miles, Rupa).
Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from ‘31 Miles’, by Vinita Bakshi, published by Rupa. It is reproduced as received. DT has not edited it.
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©Vinita Bakshi, 2016