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Poignant Monologues

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Kaberi, an Assamese woman living in Bangalore, is expecting her first child. She has been in a tumultuous relationship with her husband of seven years, Ranjit or Ron as he is popularly referred to. Theirs is a marriage, across a vast social divide that was arranged after Ron's mother spotted Kaberi at her best friend, Joya's wedding. As Ron tells Kaberi, "It was Mama who had fallen in love with you." Kaberi slowly discovers as her mother-in-law inducts her into a lifestyle of luxury that "money alone cannot buy happiness but money can, sometimes, sweeten the soil so that happiness is encouraged to grow." Their only regret is that they have been unable to conceive. By the time, IVF has worked, Kaberi and Ron have separated, although not officially. Kaberi is immersed in writing her manuscript and working with her editor, Tara, long distance, while Ron, who is always careful to be in vogue, is preoccupied with his corporate life, socialising, networking and being on tour, most of the time. It is very apparent in little details such as I wanted a nice home too, mind you, but my wants and his were parallel lines and I despaired of ever finding a flat." Or in the way they react to dreams; Kaberi says that "Dreams can be dreamt in colour and you can smell things in them too…Your father does not believe in drams; he never sees any he always says but I have my own theory about that. I am sure he has dreams, everybody does, but your father wipes them clean out of his mind. Weak-minded, he thinks dreamers are, too willing to submit to fanciful ideas …

While in Bangalore, she befriends Preetha, a neighbour, who has a child with Down's syndrome, Tarun, and "she looks after him with a frightening determination but she directs that aggression to the outside." When Kaberi tells her friend about her absent husband, Preetha says with her voice hard that "the child deserves to have a father…He deserves that name and that protection,' in spite of having grown up with a father who cheated on his wife by having a second family. Rebirth is about Kaberi "talking" to her unborn child, detailing her life and its trials as they happen, but also reflecting upon the past : her friendships, especially with Joya who was my friend. No, that is not adequate at all; she was so much more. I would like to say she was my sister but when we were created of different flesh so let me call her alter ego, for it was difficult sometimes to distinguish where Joya ended and I began, where we flowed into one another, a pair of underground streams. It has been three years since Joya was killed when the bus in which she was travelling with other doctors was ambushed, but Joya's absence still haunts Kaberi. To add to these personal preoccupations are the politics of Assam that transformed its landscape in the 1980s, which formed a backdrop to Kaberi's childhood and adolescence, but continue to influence her present existence. She is constantly reflecting upon her life, so much so, Sonia, wife of Rahul, a colleague of Ron's says, "You are pretty intimidating, with your deep, deep thoughts locked up behind your tranquil face." Sonia is consoling Kaberi upon discovering Ron with his girlfriend, Lakshmi. She works in the Human Resources Department and according to Sonia, she is always looking for someone to help; to get lunch for, to go shopping for, to help babysit someone's kids. In the office, Rahul says she is always helping others out-at the cost of her own work…And she speaks with a tongue so sweet it can only be forked.

In Rebirth, Jahnavi Barua has used the technique of interior monologue beautifully. She shifts easily from different points of view; from talking tenderly, in an almost soothing tone to her baby to a reflective and contemplative mood while trying to analysing her strained relationships with Ron and her mother or her growing fondness for the women in her immediate circle—Preetha, Sonia and even Mary, her maid. What is truly extraordinary in this novel is that the author has been able to distance herself from the experience of being pregnant while recalling details meticulously, otherwise it all gets reduced to a blur.

Of late, there is a growing trend in literary fiction that deal with the spaces women negotiate for themselves on a daily basis. The tone in Rebirth is inevitably of Kaberi having a quiet confidence of having made peace with the choices women make on a daily basis. Some portions of the novel may lack the power of Anjana Appachana's short stories, but Jahnavi Barua's writing has a dignified poise in its style, similar to that of Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni and Mitra Phukan, that will hopefully influence other women writers.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant and critic