Love moderately, cautioned William Shakespeare. The Bard warned of consequences otherwise. The protagonists of KR Meera’s new novel, The Poison of Love, can vouch for that. Tulsi is a record-breaker from IIT-Madras, now begging in the streets of Vrindavan. Madhav is a famous journalist, currently lying on a hospital bed in the same town. Tulsi and Madhav’s story begins from there, and goes backwards. She was headed for a marital life with US-based Vinay when her friend Madhav sowed some seeds of doubt and a portion of passion in her. It turns out those were just enough to alter the future.
Tulsi cancels her wedding and elopes with Madhav, becoming his 27th lover and first wife. She, however, leaves behind her mother, a cancer patient, a senior cop father and two young sisters in her home state of Kerala for life in the national capital. We find out later that though Kerala is a high-literate state with higher social parameters and political awareness, there is some problem with the integration of this social success with society itself. Her mother dies and the scared father forces his young and bright daughters into early marriages.
Back to Tulsi and Madhav. They now have two children and a lot more problems. Some of his previous 26 lovers keep coming back to Madhav’s and, by extension, Tulsi’s life. “Madhav was like a rich dessert,” Tulsi would recall later. “Women devoured him like ants.” Madhav is now more famous after his switch from print to television journalism. That success, however, is directly proportional to Tulsi’s woes. She realises that there is only one way in front of her and that lies outside of their marriage.
The Poison of Love is narrated by Tulsi as a disciple of Meera Bai (the devotee of Lord Krishna) in Vrindavan, as part of its “ten thousand women discarded by fathers, lovers, husbands”. The novel, first published in Malayalam as Meerasadhu, came two years before the author wrote Aarachar (2010), which won her the Sahitya Akademi award for 2015. When it came out in Malayalam, The Poison of Love drew a large number of readers, “mostly women”, says the author at the end of the novel. Of the two, though, Aarachar was the first to be translated into English as Hangwoman: Everyone Loves a Good Hanging (2014).
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In a city where widows come to sing hymns praising love and loyalty, Tulsi plots the end of love and longing. She might not know what is going on inside the shaven heads of other women like her in Vrindavan, but is resolute in her plans. The Poison of Love is an ode to loss and suffering. There is no preaching. Instead, it presents a world of violence, physical and emotional. It’s not an ordinary visit to Vrindavan. Brace for a rollercoaster ride, as bhajans and brutality surface at regular intervals.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer