With crisp writing and easy language, The Private Life of Mrs Sharma is a brilliant take on the inequalities in India
The beauty of the book lies in its title, The Private Life of Mrs Sharma, which could be the story of any urban Indian woman. In Ratika Kapur’s book, that woman is Renuka Sharma, a middle-class, 37-year-old married woman, who lives and works in the national capital.
On the surface, she’s a strong-willed woman, balancing work—as a receptionist for a doctor—and home nicely, living in a big city with her in-laws and teenage son, while her husband slogs it out in Dubai for a financially secure future. Inside, she’s a small-town girl whose ambitions have been smothered—first by her mother’s illness and then by her in-laws’ expectations of her. But she is hopeful. Hopeful for the day when they have saved enough for their son’s education and for her to pursue her dreams of starting her own business. And then one day, she meets Vineet, a man on the metro, and her life changes irrevocably. In trying to maintain a balance between the heart and mind, she creates for herself a mess of mammoth proportions.
Kapur’s Mrs Sharma is a traditional woman and yet not completely unaware of the modernities around her. For instance, she abhors her son’s drinking, but grudgingly accepts it as a sort of ‘rite of passage’ for young boys. She can’t wrap her head around her son wanting to be a chef and take cooking lessons (she wants him to have a ‘real’ job), but agrees to Vineet coming home every week for the said lessons for the sake of her son’s happiness. She wants to wear western clothes, but when the mother-in-law objects, she meekly surrenders. A dutiful wife, mother and daughter-in-law, sometimes she wishes it was her who was away working in Dubai, with her husband holding the fort at home—a wish that’s granted, but in the most unexpected of ways at the end of the book.
It is this inner conflict of the protagonist that is the soul of this breezy, slice-of-life novel. It’s also the reason why she gets attracted to Vineet in the first place, a younger man who, unlike the boys his age, seems mature and respectable. In her head, there is nothing wrong in her wanting to seek some physical and emotional comfort from the young man. And yet, she can’t bring herself to
tell him the whole truth about herself.
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma is also a brilliant take on the inequalities in India. Sample this: “Men like Doctor Sahib drink alcohol, but they are different to our men. They drink for different reasons. Men like Doctor Sahib drink because they are happy, not to become happy”. Kapur’s writing is crisp and the language easy. However, one wishes that supporting characters had been better fleshed out. We don’t get to know their thought process, only Mrs Sharma’s perception of things. But then again, it’s her observations—sometimes sardonic, other times witty—that make you want to keep turning the pages.