Thicker than Blood: Munmun Ghosh
--Reviewed by Divya Dubey
[Published in Hindustan Times, Oct 18, 2016: http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/review-of-thicker-than-blood-by-munmun-ghosh/story-3JdUoo9b2CGKvHFiiIdKwK.html]
Mummun Ghosh is a journalist with two novels to her credit already: Hushed Voices (2007) and Unhooked (2012). Apart from Stardust and The Economic Times, she has worked for The Daily and Indya.com.
Her third novel, Thicker than Blood, fits neatly into the arc of a traditional fiction novel: quest, obstacle, dilemma, choice, climax. The protagonist, Mayuri, is a Bombay-based woman who gave up a possible career in Psychology to marry Vimal, her dream man, rather early in life. Both husband and wife are in their mid- or late twenties.
The quest in this case is Mayuri’s pregnancy – she is obsessed with the ‘maternal urge’ and the desire for motherhood – and obstacles are many: Vimal’s rich but stingy father who resents the expenditure on expensive infertility treatments; Vimal’s mother, who believes children are gifts from God and Mayuri should be spending more time praying and practising rituals to please them rather than chasing doctors and hospitals; Vimal himself, who believes he and his wife are still quite young and have enough time to make babies; and the futility of all the treatment processes already undergone.
Mayuri, however, soldiers on, driven by her yearning for a child. In the process she drags Vimal into several of her experiments – procedures or poojas and rituals. Once he is asked to undergo a surgery; at another time she coerces him into relinquishing non-vegetarian food that he loves. Her desperation has been portrayed very well. She even lands up at a shady locality to visit a tantric on the recommendation of her hairdresser, but manages to leave unscathed. Later, her confession to her husband makes him thaw a little towards her and he agrees to see the doctor with her.
Another couple that serves as a foil to Vimal and Mayuri, and perhaps occupies almost as much of the story-space as them, is Rahul and Seema, Vimal’s brother and sister-in-law. Seema is a strong woman, the daughter of an actor, who had to suppress her dreams of acting when she married Rahul. However, several years after marriage, now when their children are
slightly older and more manageable and Rahul has taken to visiting dance bars to entertain bar dancers, Seema returns to theatre, her first love. She is the kind of woman Mayuri both admires and abhors, which is perhaps one of the main reasons why they are best friends. When the story opens, Seema is practising reading from Tenessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, with her theatre group. With time she excels at her part, is made an offer and is quick to accept it. To find something that would fulfill her, at Seema’s suggestion, Mayuri joins an NGO.
Much of Mayur’s personality is revealed through her interactions with Seema, her responses to her behaviour and judgement of her actions, many of which she cannot comprehend since she views her as ‘endowed’ while she herself is ‘deprived’. At times, in fact, the novel begins to seem more like Seema’s story than Mayuri’s own. Her character, too, is better etched.
Out of the five parts the novel has been divided into, the first deals with the issue of infertility, the second with home, family affairs and resorting to prayers and ritualism. The next three deal with the two parallel storylines – Mayuri’s and Seema’s – as they face and slay their individual demons.
As Mayuri hops/skips/jumps from doctor to doctor in the hope of being able to conceive, her fears and frustration are very well conveyed. The author’s familiarity with the subject and the thoroughness of her research are also apparent in her portrayal of these visits and dealings.
At one point Mayuri reconnects with a friend from college, Shreyas, whose wife committed suicide. He is a common friend and Vimal shows no jealousy or insecurity towards him. Mayuri, sure of her own love for her husband, encourages Shreyas to flirt with her. Afterwards Shreyas is emboldened enough to make a pass at her. Even though she is tempted to give in to this one indiscretion, she resists and manages to ask him to leave.
Right from the beginning, Mayuri has been shown as a middle class ‘good girl’ with all the right values. She never had any experience with men before Vimal, barring a vague ‘necking’ incident with a cousin when she was a teenager. Her conjugal life, before the obsession with childbirth, was near-perfect, and she emerges triumphant after the Shreyas debacle, completely in love with her husband again. As a heroine though, Seema is a far more realistic and likeable character.
The only thread in the story that doesn’t quite hang together is Swati, Mayuri’s sister-in-law from her own side, and her daughter, Payal, about to finish school. There is too little about them, for the family tragedy that follows, to make any impact upon the reader. It seems like an extraneous element introduced simply because the book seemed incomplete without a loss.
The acceptance of fate and evolution at the end are realistically drawn, if somewhat predictable. However, shoddy editing and absolute howlers take away a great deal from the reading pleasure.