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Deepanjana Pal’s Hush A Bye Baby is a thriller that takes the reader into the dark underpinnings of a celebrated gynaecologist’s practice, delving into what goes on behind doors.
In the histories, as we dig deeper and deeper in the past, we find oppression – systemic, ruthless, horrifying oppression – and we find vigilantes rising up from the oppression to resist it. A revolution, a change, a vengeance. But how far are you willing to go to achieve it? Where do you draw the line?
Deepanjana Pal’s debut novel throws all this to us and more in the form of a gritty, fast-paced story.
So goes the rhyme:
“Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall;
Down will come baby, cradle and all.”
Image source: Facebook
The front cover shows a child inside a womb, and the back cover shows a patient in a hospital gown with her head bent down sitting on a hospital bed, and through them the novel makes it amply clear that the author is here to take the reader through an exhilarating ride.
Dr. Nandita Rai, a South Mumbai socialite, a celebrity gynecologist, a gregarious woman with a powerful bearing, is a feminist icon of sorts. She has a radio show on which she speaks about women’s rights and empowerment, and doesn’t mince words when she has to give back to patriarchal bigots. She is known as a pillar to many women who visit her Hope Fertility Clinic, a goddess of sorts to mothers all over. Her husband, Mr. Navin Rai, is a construction magnate and has influential friends. Everything is hunky dory for Dr. Rai, until one day, the tables turn against her.
The Crime Against Women (CAW) cell of Mumbai Police, in a span of a few days receives over 25 calls accusing Dr. Rai of sex-selective abortions. The latest call by one Mrs. Seema Punjabi, is the final straw, when the police decide to act on it seriously because they have firm evidence in place now. In the first few pages of the book, we are done with the part of whodunit. Now comes a why! And then come a series of chilling revelations.
The book certainly is a page-turner. A refreshing read that deals with various social issues like abortions, women’s safety, feminism, in one compact form, not getting too much into the pedantic, even moral dilemmas are given a superfast treatment. Pal doesn’t dwell too much on individual pieces. She is crisp, lucid and yet manages to create an atmosphere without wasting too many words on the creation of it. Fast, yes, but not rushed. The characters are relatable, their names taken from our own lives and yet, as is an Indian novel based in a metropolis wont to sound colloquial, Pal’s language surpasses that limitation quite effectively.
There are greys in all characters. They all grapple with their principles at one point or the other. A good novel brings out human vulnerabilities and makes them horrifyingly your own, and that’s what Deepanjana has managed to bring out through her story. Deepanjana’s women are headstrong and the protagonist, sub-inspector Reshma Gabuji’s character is a dashing, dynamic retaliation to the equally potent antagonist. Reshma was probably my favorite character in the novel.
There is a spooky instance that gave me gooseflesh, a monologue by the antagonist that made me question the relativity of the good and the bad, a cliffhanger by the end that made for a hair-raising climax and had me asking, rather begging the author for a sequel. I pride myself in being a good predictor when it comes to thrillers, at least long shots of mine hit the right place sometime or later during the course of the story. But in Pal’s story, there were two turns that I never saw coming, not in my wildest guesses and that is a huge thing for a debut thriller. The nursery rhyme “Hush A Bye Baby”, if we go by the lyrics ideally was never innocent, yet we didn’t very easily see the sinister in it. But now it will never be the same for me again.
If you want to break a reading slump, or if you have a free afternoon, or if you want a fresh perspective of issues that have not been tackled by Indian pop literature so far, I recommend very strongly for you all to grab this novel of Deepanjana Pal. Just make sure you have enough time on hand because you might not want to put down this 290-pager till the very end.
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Top image via Facebook and book cover via Amazon
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