A Woman Madly in Love: ‘It was one of society’s uglier verities, the very qualities which gave a person the status of outsider made the same person interesting to insiders, not unlike artists who were admired thought rarely in their own families – not unlike many in the audience she was sure, Ratan among them, who might mock Dani in public and lust after her in private.’ – Farida Cooper

I was in Islamabad last year and a visit to Saeed Book Bank was inevitable. I was going through the many shelves and genres of books when I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful cover of a woman, uninhibited.

I picked up the volume and read the title of said book: A Woman Madly In Love by Boman Desai. I turned toward the end of the book to read the synopsis at the back and it was everything I really wanted to read at the time.

I flipped the pages and I was not disappointed at the passages I did read. I bought it since I would be mad not to.

Farida Cooper, the protagonist represents the feminine sensibility of a ‘modern’ woman in South-Asian cultures. Someone who discards all barriers, inhibitions, moral and social codes, which hinder her quest for rebellion and search for her identity regardless of the societal norms that cage her in.

Hailing from an influential Parsi family in Bombay, India; she is subjected to extreme pressure to get married within the community and be the perfect woman.

Her mother does not care about her and she is left to be with her aunt during a difficult family separation. We are also told that she is invited to IVY league universities on a scholarship and she chooses to go abroad for higher studies despite the disappointment of her mother.

She meets her then husband, a professor of Literary Theory and finds that his adulterous affair leads to many more casualties back home in India.

The novel explores and recognizes the displacement and marginalization of women in India. It tries to create awareness that this is the time to proclaim with definite precision the psychological awareness of women in the region and to understand their beliefs and experiences; that they are as universal as any female protagonist written by European authors.

In writing Farida, Boman Desai decimates the principles which hold an Indian woman back from following in her own footsteps by mocking the hypocrisy and fallacies of the Indian psyche.

He challenges the hypocritical notion that even though some of our own families may seem liberal but when we get into relationships, the first question one is asked whether the person is a member of our own community or not. If they are not, then we are lectured on racial purity and protecting our family legacy.

The drawback of the novel however, is that the sex in the novel is presented in a typically coy Bollywoodish style. It is of a tad “touch-me / touch-me-not” variety, to the point that it appears Victorian.

I felt that Desai’s Harold Bloomish understanding of literature, his overt display of knowledge of the arts, trendy feminism, and erudition in general may lead an intelligent reader to the point of frustration regarding his true motives in writing the bildungsroman of Farida. Nevertheless, it is otherwise, a highly readable, enjoyable, and competent novel.

My ratings: 3.8/5

P.S. I would recommend you read Lolita Vladimir Nabokov as a companion to this book.