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Nari: A Story About Sex, Relationships And Consent [Book-Review]

An unusual story of sexual abuse, Nari by Sharath Komarraju's explores the nuances of sex, relationships, and consent.

An unusual story of sexual abuse, Nari by Sharath Komarraju’s explores the nuances of sex, relationships, and consent. 

Sex is a grey area because no one can stay unemotional when it comes to the subject. Sharath Komarraju’s Nari is a tale of sexual abuse written from the perspective of both abused and abuser. The abused woman is a beautiful psychologist with an abusive husband and a history of affairs. The abuser is a young boy from the village called Nari whom her husband the Captain brings into their home.

From the beginning, she is terrified of Nari who catches her in flagrante delicto with a young intern at her clinic. Nari blackmails her and ultimately ‘rapes’ her. The question raised is, what defines rape? Ramya submits tamely to Nari because she does not want her previous affair to be revealed to her husband. But she is very clear that she is submitting against her will.

An accidental struggle between husband, wife and village boy results in the husband’s death.

An accidental struggle between husband, wife and village boy results in the husband’s death. And the story is then played out from the points of view of seducer and seduced or abuser and abused. Both of them insist that they have been forced to submit against their will. Neither is innocent in terms of sexuality. Ramya had a disturbed childhood and several affairs. Nari has been inducted into sex by the young wife of a local landowner. Both stories have their own logic – Nari insists that Ramya has forcibly seduced him and co-opted him into becoming an accessory to her husband’s murder.

Going hand in hand with the violence is a no holds barred kind of sexual explicitness. As a woman, one would wonder why a psychologist cannot handle the situation of domestic violence and infidelity better than Ramya does. She seems to delight in muddying the waters and turning her lovers and her past inside out. She is also a little unsure of the Captain’s sexual proclivities – he was a good lover and then he became impotent and handy with his whip.

Nari on the other hand, comes across to her as a sexual predator though we are never quite sure why. But then, Nari in turn sees her as a sexual predator.

There is a kind of Rashomon approach to the story, where either could be telling the truth.

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There is a kind of Rashomon approach to the story, where either could be telling the truth. Komarraju does not play favourites – even the title of the novel could be either the word for woman or the short form of Narayan’s name – most people would pick the woman alternative.

But what one chooses to believe is quite another matter altogether. Komarraju is aware that he has chosen a difficult subject and he explores all its nuances, focussing on the contradictions which he knows readers will expect.

To tease the issue further, he leaves the end unresolved. It is up to the reader to decide the issues of guilt or innocence. In his afterword, he says that any sexual relationship that is carried out without the woman’s consent can be construed as abuse, especially because women are traditionally expected to play hard to get. The whole issue remains taboo in most social circles. whether Indian or otherwise, and probably has more than 50 shades of grey about it.

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