Madhuri Banerjee’s novel, Scandalous Housewives : Mumbai, is about four middle-aged women from a fictional apartment in the city who are best friends and are unsatisfied with their drab, monotonous personal lives.
The main characters – Gita, Sarita, Natasha and Aarti – live in Sapphire Towers, one of the many high-rises in the Maximum City, with their families. All are married with children but technically speaking, Aarti is not a housewife since, unlike others, she works as a Sales professional for an MNC. Natasha is an ex-model, Gita is a brilliant cook and Sarita and her husband try out new, experimental ways of lovemaking after having tried the same old methods for far too long. Despite it being an ensemble cast, the centre of the story is Gita, although the other main characters are fully fleshed out too. Her problems and struggle make for the most detailed reading. The women all have one or two kids whose characters are nicely interwoven with the story and who are quite demanding in their own ways. But the real trouble here, and something which the novel tries to sell itself with, (as evidenced by the plot synopsis on the back cover of the book) is the unsatisfied sex life of all the four principal characters. There is a lot of action in all sorts of places, and it’s all described in a manner that I’d call “PG-13”, suggestive and erotic but not too graphic.
The good thing about the novel is the way it explores the mindset of a modern, urban Indian woman and presents her viewpoint in a compassionate manner. You have to hand it to Mrs. Banerjee for the way she dissects the psyche of the lead female characters, although the men are given short-shrift as far as exploring their persona is concerned. The characters are all easily relatable. We have all seen such women in and around our surroundings, women who aren’t cherished or celebrated enough for their virtues and who constantly have to sacrifice their desires for the wishes of their husbands, kids or in-laws. The in-laws have been portrayed largely in a negative light but I think that the writer is justified in doing what she has done. The focus of the story is the housewives and their struggles against repressive societal norms, including in-laws’ drama. To balance that out, the writer has provided one character with supportive in-laws 😀 .
The book isn’t, in my opinion, of a high literary order i.e, the awards-circuit type. That is not to belittle the plot or criticise the book. If anything, the fact is that the language is easy, the pacing good enough and the events risqué at times. The characters have a lot of feminine banter every evening but hide their domestic issues from the others for fear of being judged until events take a turn for the worse and they are forced to confront their demons. The plot is a bit predictable at times and there are no shocking twists and turns. One can almost sense how things are going to turn out, a cause which Mrs. Banerjee helps generously by ominously dropping hints of what sort of calamity is going to befall our protagonists. She sets out to give us a peek into the kind of life that housewives in urban India lead. Having done that in the first few chapters, she then puts her own spin on the conditions to give us a racy page-turner that’s relatable and interesting, building on its foreplay, although it struggles a bit at the finish with the climax (pun intended). That, I think, is good enough for an absorbing book.
Rating : 3.5/5.