In this first part to the two-part short story, our narrator Ira, tells us how her Book Club for housewives which she co-created with Anjali, came into being.
She is one of the most real characters I have come across, among the many books I have read. I enjoyed the parts which included her narration and which spoke about her, the most. Also, digging deep into the person that she is was quite an adventure. As a plate of butter cookies was being passed around, Divya made this comment. She managed to grab the attention of all the ten women, including herself, who were sitting there, even though we engaged in eating and alternatively sipping coffee or tea. The book in focus for today’s discussion, was Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. With a small bite of the cookie in her mouth Vidya said, I agree with Divya. I love how lost and entangled Gauri is. Even toward the end of the novel, I don’t think she ever found herself. Even after submerging herself in the pages of her books, she kept holding onto to it so much that, which she went back to not really figuring out who she truly is. I quietly listened, as I consumed the mint chutney sandwiches which were cut in the shape of a triangle. Our mugs of coffee and tea were standing haphazardly on the coffee table, with an abandoned plate of vanilla cake. I somehow couldn’t connect with Gauri wholly. Especially when she completely distanced herself from Subhash and Bela. In fact I felt angry when she removed herself from the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother. I understand that she wanted to make a life for herself. But it shouldn’t have been done at the cost of her husband and daughter who only craved for her love. And Subhash literally gave her the life she wanted to escape to. It just wasn’t fair! As Anjali made this comment, I could sense the anger in her tone. It was almost as if Gauri was doing all those things to her. Anjali usually got overly excited during our discussions. All of us loved these discussions, but she was among the few whose excitement and enthusiasm was vividly visible. After remaining silent for most part of the session, I finally said something. I found Gauri very different from Ashima in Lahiri’s previous novel. I found more depth in her than in Ashima. And Gauri was different. I like how different and unique she is. And it’s not only her, but Subhash and Udayan who keep me surprised throughout the novel because as a reader the most nuanced details keep unfolding, for me.
Our discussion went on for nearly two hours, much like the usual time we take. People had begun to leave as soon as the discussion was over. I stayed back, as always, to help Anjali with putting away the dishes and cleaning up, after everyone had left. We were standing in the kitchen and washing the dishes. Anjali was continuously saying something, while doing the dishes and I quietly stood there and listened to her.
Hey Ira, are you okay?
Yeah, yeah. I am.
Are you sure? Because you seemed so lost in your own little world. You barely participated in our discussion.
I know. I’ve just been very distracted.
I don’t know, exactly. At this point, we both stopped doing the dishes and occupied the two chairs which were kept facing toward the kitchen counter. We closed the tap and wiped our soapy hands on a towel which Anjali picked up from the counter.
Hey, you can tell me anything. What’s going on?
I know that I can. I need some time to figure things out.
Figure what out?
My marriage. She remained silent and did not say anything. She stared at me. I don’t think she knew what to say exactly. My marriage had not exactly been smooth sailing since the past one year and she knew about it. The Book Club usually provided an escape from my otherwise unhappy life but today, it did not help. Without giving her a chance to speak, I continued talking.
You know how unhappy Ziaan has been for a year, now. And now it’s getting worse. Every second day he ends up picking a fight. There are nights when he doesn’t come home, even. I don’t know what to do.
Talk to him about this. Have you tried doing that?
Of course I have! But he conveniently changes the topic and doesn’t allow any discussion to happen between us, about us.
That isn’t fair.
I know that it isn’t, but what can I do? He’s always been like this. I don’t know what to do. I suddenly found tears rolling down my eyes. Anjali came a little closer and wiped the tears off, of my face.
About a year ago, Anjali and I started the book club, when my marriage slowly had begun to crack. Anjali and I became acquainted with each other because of our husbands. Our husbands knew each other from their college days and managed to remain the best of friends even after they graduated with their Bachelors’ degree. They had created this tradition of having dinner together every month, either in their homes or somewhere outside. Life had gotten the best of them and they barely got the time to spend with each other, like they used to, when they were in college. When Anjali and I started dating them, this tradition got extended to include us as well. It took a couple of months for Anjali and me to become more comfortable with each other and eventually, we did. We started learning a lot about each other and our relationships during these dinner dates. We discovered that the both of us shared a profound love for literature. As time passed by, we started meeting outside our little traditional dinner dates. We’d meet for brunch or for a snack in either of our homes or we’d go out to a new restaurant or a cafe. We’d assign each other a new book to read every week and during our meetings, we’d discuss about these books.
Do you have to be home anytime soon? I checked the time on my watch. It was 5:20 pm.
No, not really.
I want you to relax, sit down and just give voice to all those doubts and fears dancing within you. I didn’t say anything but just looked down.
Hey, she lifted my face. I’m going to open a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes and you’re going to tell me all about it, whatever it is that is bothering you and upsetting you and pushing you to not give your entire attention to this book club.
The book club had been our baby. We were the ones who created this baby who we call The Homemaker’s Book Club. Neither Anjali nor I were working women. Our book club, allowed us to focus on something we absolutely loved and were passionate about. It took away our minds from the otherwise monotonous lives we lead as housewives. The two or so hours that we did spend time discussing the books we had assigned each other for the week, was something we longed for through the entire week. We relished every bit of it with our entire selves, when we read the books and discussed them. These discussion took me back to the English Literature classes of my college days. I had begun to realize that I was distancing myself from something that I not only helped create, but something that was completely close to my heart. I didn’t want to lose it because in all honesty, it was something that kept me going through all the difficult time in my marriage and with Ziaan.
Ira, you must speak with Ziaan about this, mostly because it is eating you up. I can see that. I am not telling you this because of how lost you were today, but because of how lost you have been since the past couple of times our group has met. Many have pointed out that you seem uninterested and lost and do not contribute enough, like you usually would.
I know. I need some time.
Take it. But can I just tell you one more thing? Why don’t you put all your energies into reading and enjoying the sessions, like you otherwise do? It’ll do you good and it will make you feel better. Trust me on that.
Yeah, you’re right. I’m going to try doing that.