15 August 2014
Daughter By Court Order follows the life of Aranya, or Arnie, who has been physically and psychologically abused time and again, by…her own mother! This abuse has understandably left her scarred and unsure of herself, even now, when she has had a stellar academia, and has juggled the role of a single mother of two and a career woman with seeming ease. Now, Arnie has her task cut out, as her very existence is being snuffed out by her family, to keep her out of her inheritance. Though Arnie was born into a family that has always been in the public eye, her mother has somehow led the courts of law to believe that Arnie doesn’t exist!
Debutant Ratna Vira manages to raise a plethora issues relating to women empowerment, child abuse, rights to property and so on. Unfortunately, many women in India still face most or all of the problems that are raised here. This makes Daughter By Court Order an important book by its own right, just for raising these issues in a regular fictional setting. I also loved the many motivational quotes strewn across the book.
The plot moves from the present to the past, mostly on the back of Aranya’s assorted memories of her growing up years. You would relate to a family embroiled in long drawn property-related strife, as they are so commonplace. The characters of Aranya, Chhoti Phua, Aranya’s kids and ex-husband are well defined.
Where the cracks start showing is with the characterization of Aranya’s mother, Kamini. From monster to shrew to adulteress, Kamini just has every vice in the book. And she has a very comical dressing sense to boot! It is just too much to relate to, if you know what I mean. After a certain point, it just feels like you are seeing a caricature villain of the 80s’ Hindi movies – of the Shakti Kapoor variety. Maybe comical, but you lose the effect.
Another big problem here is Aranya herself. Halfway through the book, her loyalties are still on the fence! I understand the wishful thinking that one would go through, but Arnie’s resolve is too tenacious, what with each minor thing either breaking her or driving her to faint, or worse, making her believe that now there will be a truce! I mean, this from a woman who has borne four decades of abuse is a tad too unbelievable, and makes the reader disinvest from the character of the protagonist.
Coming to the narration, though the language is good, at times it just feels too…whiny! I wondered whether the plot was based on real life incidents, because one can feel the author and the narration tip heavily towards just one character and her mental tirades. The problem with a partial narration is that you don’t make the other characters as believable, and hence, again, make the reader disinvest in the goings-on. Everyone who is on the other side from Arnie is by default painted black, without one redeeming factor! Now this may be based on real life, but, as the saying goes, ‘Fiction, unlike truth, has to make sense’!
Finally, there are the unanswered questions. Why is Kamini so cruel to her own daughter? Though Arnie keeps asking this to herself, neither she nor the readers get a conclusive answer to this central question. Arnie’s equation with her ex husband (are they separated, divorced, getting back together?) is also never satisfactorily explored.
Daughter By Court Order is a bold book, and would be of special interest for people who like feminist literature that is not the regular chic-lit. You only wish that the narration was impartial and it didn’t have to belittle or caricaturize the other characters to bring out the goodness of its protagonist.
Originally reviewed at Vaultofbooks.com, a close-knit community of fanatical readers. We are looking for perceptive readers who can write well, and we are eager to provide lots of free books in exchange for reviews. Shoot us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org