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Namita Gokhale’s The Habit Of Love transcends time and explores the different facets of women – and the intricacies of their loves.
Review by Rashi Goel
To term Namita Gokhale’s The Habit of Love a collection of short stories would be unfair, almost belittling to this author of remarkable excellence and profundity. It is in truth a mirror reflecting the lives of thirteen women or maybe thirteen mirrors reflecting the life of a woman.
I’ve never been one to believe that an author can be entirely distinguished from his or her main characters. As a first time reader of her work, I believe that there’s a little bit of Gokhale in each one of these stories. From Madhu Sinha to Qandahari, from Vatsala Vidyarthi to Kunti, women across time have had something in common; in fact a lot in common. Namita Gokhale brings out these characteristics with utmost understanding, empathy and most of all élan – for there’s a little bit of her protagonists in each one of us.
The common thread that weaves skilfully through each and every strand of this almost 200 page book is in fact the habit of love – empty, yet all encompassing, hopeless, yet full of hope. Gokhale has an inimitable way with words, in how she effortlessly talks about a modern day woman’s needs and desires on one hand and with almost equal ease speaks of love and the sense of duty of the historical woman on the other.
The book’s characters reveal a unique masochistic quality of women whether it’s with respect to their husbands, lovers or sons. The theme of death is an undercurrent in a few stories; however it is always lined with hope. I can confidently say that Gokhale has mastered the art of writing about death for a mass audience for she portrays it with immense beauty and wisdom. Having survived cancer at the age of thirty-five and the death of her husband a few years later, Gokhale clearly favours ‘Death’ as an intriguing topic.
What drew me to her writing style further is that it is resplendent with metaphors and unusually crafted analogies. Consider this: “Our pheromones, our ganglia and our neurons wave out to each other”. Or this one, “Like three helium balloons bobbing disconsolately against a low ceiling, tangled rather than tied together by our floating strings.” Not very picturesque and yet hard hitting, makes Gokhale’s descriptive narrative style an inspiration for those wanting to be published authors someday.
My favourite stories (there are more than a couple that I absolutely loved) in this book are ‘Chronicles of Exile’ and ‘Kunti’. What moved me most was the present day aura that is portrayed even for women from an era long gone by. And yet the dignity with which they lived their lives is a learning women of today would really benefit from. For Qandahari it was a contractual obligation of sorts to stick by the blind king Dhritarashtra and for the king, his honour and power. For Kunti it was her intense love for her son Arjun that made her beg Karna for his life in the battlefield and for Karna perhaps his unrequited love for his mother that made him oblige.
All in all, an amazing book replete with the complexities and fragilities of a woman’s heart and mind. The Habit of Love has sown in me the seed of longing, not just for more of Namita Gokhale’s works but also for more in this genre.
Publishers: Penguin Books
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