Suralakshmi Villa


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‘Personal revelations, dreams and recollections, letters and memoirs are woven together in this complex novel of human relationships. With the flow of the narrative, with its many layers and nuances, a panoramic view of Bengal, past and present, is revealed. A truly riveting read’ Sharmila Tagore‘A masterful novel which weaves its magic across the warp and weft of intertwined stories. At once tender and brutal, this evocative and richly layered narrative draws sustenance from the harsh contours of reality and the compulsions of the human heart’ Namita Gokhale‘A splendid tapestry of stories deftly woven with compassion and flair; Suralakshmi Villa is a heart-warming read’ Kunal BasuSuralakshmi Choudhury, a gynaecologist based in Delhi, falls in love at the age of thirty-one, marries and has a son. Suddenly, five years after his birth, she abandons everything including the house gifted to her by her father and her flourishing medical career, to travel to an obscure village in Bengal and open a free clinic for women and children. She leaves her son behind but takes along a poor Muslim girl, she has adopted. What makes her take this strange decision?Suralakshmi’s actions confound her relatives and it is from their accounts of the incidents, letters, memoirs, and flashbacks – from a more distant past – that the story comes together and the layers and nuances in the enigmatic character of Suralakshmi are brought to light.In Suralakshmi Villa, Aruna Chakravarti blends the narrative of the novel with history, legend, music, religion, folklore, rituals and culinary practices of both Hindus and Muslims, and creates a fascinating tapestry which reveals the syncretic nature of Bengal and her people.

From the Publisher

A Conversation with Aruna Chakravarti

Q. 1. What was your inspiration for building a character like Suralakshmi in the novel?

A.1. I had heard of such a woman, from a colleague of mine way back in the sixties. She was a lady from an upper-class Brahmin family of Chennai. She left her husband and a four-year-old son, after six years of marriage, and went to live in an obscure village, sustaining herself by teaching in a school. She never came back.

Her action was very daring for the sixties, which was when the incident took place, and the woman was obviously far ahead of her times. I used her as an inspiration for my protagonist in Suralakshmi Villa decades later. Apart from the fact of her desertion, I knew nothing about her life and character and the ethos in which she had lived, I created a story around her, filled it with characters, and gave her a context.

Q.2. You have created some unique as well as strong female characters in the novel. How relevant do you think they are in today’s time?

A.2. I think they are extremely relevant. Patriarchal notions of a woman’s role in society as chaste and obedient wife, bearer and nurturer of children and silent spectator of male transgressions, are deeply rooted in the Indian consciousness. Particularly in the middle and lower classes of India. Barring a few exceptions in cosmopolitan cities. A woman’s silence and self-sacrifice are qualities that have been glorified by tradition. The status quo remains even in this 21st century. Unfortunately, some women aid the spread of such ideas and help to perpetuate them.

Even at this point of time a character like Lakshmi Debi will act as a role model for many Indian women. Lakshmi Debi takes the decision, extraordinary for the times, to give all her daughters the best education, encourage them to take up careers and marry only when they choose to do so. Equally inspiring are her daughters. Even among the very poor there are strong women whose thoughts run ahead of their time.

Q.3. Suralakshmi Villa is a novel of strength. In these chaotic times, how do you think it will give hope to the readers?

A.3. Today’s world is highly polarized. Religious, social and ethnic differences are being fanned in the name of ‘preservation of entity’ and violence is being unleashed. Some radical groups – religious and political – are proactively and forcefully widening gaps and creating rifts between communities and cultures. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the wedge that is being driven between Hindus and Muslims. Yet it was not always so. Suralakshmi Villa offers an image of Bengal in the early 20th century when Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony. These shared sentiments were reflected in the poetry, music, and common cultural practices of both communities. Unfortunately, this is, today, in a state of siege. Reading Suralakshmi Villa will counter this menace and give hope to beleaguered people.

Q.4. You have played with the style of the novel, the timeline, the settings, and also the narration. How does it help the readers to understand the characters and story?

A.4. The protagonist of my novel, Suralakshmi Choudhuri, is an enigma. There are many sides to her personality, many layers and nuances. I felt that the best way to present this unfathomable, myriad minded woman would be through multiple narratives. Since the lives of all the men and women of her family, all her friends and acquaintances, were impacted by her desertion, their separate accounts of the incident would not only open up their individual characters and tell their own stories, but would highlight one aspect or another of her personality. Her character would, with this style of narration, emerge in all its complexity. Each character presents one facet of the truth. The final decision of what to make of her is left to the reader’s judgement. The idea behind the shifting timeline was to show her at different phases of her development: as a child of seven, a gynecologist in her thirties and finally as an old woman of seventy-two.

Q.5. Why have you named the story after the protagonist’s house Suralakshmi Villa? How is the house significant?

A. 5. The most significant and unusual thing about the house is, like other human characters of the novel, the inanimate villa is given a voice. Like the other characters, who each offer a small part of the truth, the house knows the whole truth. She is the only character of the novel who, unseen and undisturbed, has observed and recorded everything that happened from the time of Suralakshmi’s arrival to that of her leaving her husband and child and setting off for Malda with Eidun. She spills out the truth right in the end. With the last piece of the puzzle pulled out from her sleeve, she completes it and the picture comes into full view. After Suralakshmi, she is the most important character of the novel and hence the book is named after her.

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Picador India; 1st edition (13 February 2020)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 313 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9389109396
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9389109399
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 443 g
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 20 x 5 x 25 cm
Country of Origin ‏ : ‎ India
Net Quantity ‏ : ‎ 1.00 count

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