The Cousins, By Prema Raghunath

Posted: September 11, 2011

The Cousins by Prema Raghunath tests your patience with its language, although the fascinating story at its core tries to overcome this shortfall.

Review by Unmana

Prema Raghunath’s ‘The Cousins’ is written in convoluted, erratic prose. The language veers from old-fashioned, slightly poetic to prosaic, and the tenses are obscured, so that it is difficult to make out the sequence of events. The novel proceeds through the viewpoints of several characters, including one intermittent series of chapters that is the story of Goutu’s life as she tells it to her grandchildren. Within the same chapter too, the point of view sometimes starts with one character before moving to another and then boomeranging back; all of this making it difficult to hang on to the thread of the story.

Which is a pity, because there is a story there. Beneath the superfluous words and the affected style, is the story of people who feel real. At the center is the protagonist, Goutu, who lives in a conservative society and is constantly tugging at her chains. She is a remarkable heroine; she succumbs often to what she deems her fate but occasionally lashes out with all the rebellion in her being. She is married to a man very different from her – quiet and detached where Goutu is passionate and fiery. But it isn’t a surprise when Seshadri falls in love with his wife, and quite characteristic of him that he is too scared of losing control to tell her.

The other man in Goutu’s life is Krishanand, charming but manipulative and totally selfish, the polar opposite of steadfast, boring Seshadri. These two men form the pillars over which Goutu builds her life; one always by her side, unloved but yet not totally unwanted, and the other a dream that shimmers in the distance and never comes too close.

These relationships and characters dominate the story; everyone else seems like a cardboard cut-out and one-dimensional in comparison. Goutu and Seshadri’s two daughters are part of much of the story, but we never get a sense of what the girls are really like, except for when Seshadri is enumerating their virtues or failings. They aren’t even referred to by name, just by their order of birth- they are simply not important except in being their parents’ children. Even though we are told Goutu held her daughters in complete thrall, we learn little of how this affected their lives.

There is another younger child who serves to change the course of Goutu’s life, whom she perhaps cared for more than anyone who had come before.

But to know more you need to read the book. If you can persevere past the cloying expression, you might get an impression of a strong and interesting woman who may have found happiness in a less judgmental society.

Publisher: Zubaan Books

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Readers outside India can purchase The Cousins through our affiliate link at Amazon.

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