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By Usha Rajagopalan
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2005, pp. 334, Rs. 295.00


What a relief to read a novel with a difference. Most books by Indian authors in recent times seem to be angst-ridden tales of their own lives and family histories, usually with a skeleton tucked away somewhere. And not very deftly either because the reader begins to guess its identity long before it tumbles out of a closet.   Amrita is a refreshing departure from this. Sure, there are secrets here as well—the novel starts with revealing one and ends with unearthing another—but the theme they are woven into is not something that has been tackled before.   Amrita is the story of a family coping with a mentally challenged daughter. Usha Rajagopalan’s gripping and racy narrative captures beautifully the trauma of the parents when they discover the truth, the mother’s refusal to accept the verdict and determination to make her daughter ‘normal’ and the insensitive reaction of society, often bordering on the cruel. Kamala’s helplessness in dealing with her younger ‘normal’ daughter, Maya, and the latter’s confused reaction to her older sister and later protective attitude is something that should touch a chord with any family in a similar situation even as it brings alive to people who have never been in similar situations what those families have to deal with. When the mystery surrounding Amrita’s death comes to light, it must bring alive the fears of many parents who have mentally challenged children.   The story of Raghu and Kamala’s family comes out in conversations with Gauri, who thinks her world has come to an end when she realizes that she is the illegitimate child of Raghu. She comes to confront and shame him, only to be caught up in a more traumatic story.   There are parts where the narrative drags a bit. And there are several inexplicables as well. For example, why does Maya hate her mother and is attached to her father when it is clear that it is he who is unsympathetic about Amrita’s condition? How could she, who seems to be otherwise very sensitive, not react to her father’s boorishness? How come no one notices when Maya and Amrita go out every day to the fields? And why would a family send their brighter daughter away to a village to study because they couldn’t cope? What about the extended family, their reactions? There’s also Raghu’...

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