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Life In Wee Nooke

A likeable novel despite the unavoidable Mills and Boon touches.

Life In Wee Nooke
Life In Wee Nooke
Himalayan Love Story
By Namita Gokhale
Penguin Pages: 216; Rs 225
This is a revised version of a novel first published in 1996. It opens with a sentence from the heroine Parvati which to me seems regrettable: "I have always recognised that I carry an emptiness inside me, though I did not at first understand it." The sentence immediately tells one, if the title has not already done so, that the story to follow will involve a failed romance and will be what some reviewers describe as "sensitively told".

What follows is, on the whole, a pleasant surprise. The story is told in two parts. Parvati is the first and the shorter. She tells us about her deprived childhood in a reasonably civilised part of the Himalayan foothills. Her father dies young; her mother becomes tubercular and is sent to a sanatorium. Her uncle takes charge of her. He is the headmaster of a school at Nainital, and is made to sound slightly detestable.

He lives in a hideously-named house, "Wee Nooke", and under its roof, history teacher Salman promptly seduces the adolescent Parvati. He then disappears to America. Parvati enters into a platonic friendship with two pupils of the school, Lalit and Mukul. She is eventually married off to Lalit, who turns out to be homosexual and will not sleep with her. The object of his affections is Mukul, who has meanwhile fallen in love with her.

Instead of being sensible and sleeping with him, Parvati has an affair with her husband’s younger brother. Following Lalit’s sudden and convenient death of TB, she is delivered of a girl child, Irra. She then, apparently, goes mad. Several years later, her uncle dies and leaves all his property to Mukul. He, during these years, has achieved some measure of success in that he has become a petty bureaucrat in a minor branch of the UN, and lives in Hong Kong with his Eurasian wife.

But he still thinks he may be in love with Parvati. The second part of the book is told by him, as he describes his return to Nainital to claim his property and satisfy his curiosity. He finds Parvati insane and Irra now assumed to be his responsibility.

Mukul’s situation is grotesque and would be tragic if he did not reveal himself to be insufferably pompous. Gokhale describes his dilemma and how he solves it with delicate, precise irony. On the whole, despite the unavoidable Mills and Boon touches in the plot, I liked this novel.


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