Status: Read from Nov 15 to Nov 18, 2017
My rating: /5
Author: Vanaja Banagiri
A many-layered story that explores the conflicts of butterflies caught in barbed wires, of women who are strangers in their own homes. Beautiful and strong, they handle the dramas that life unfolds in the best way they can. For Shehzaadi and Maya, mother and daughter tragically separated during the ’78 riots in Hyderabad, it is a question of forgetting and trying to remember an elusive past. For Maya, who moves back to the city from Bangalore where she has grown up, it is a painful quest for her identity. For Shehzaadi it is a struggle to deal with old memories and the loss of her entire world.
Varsha, Maya’s best friend, attempts to tackle a separation from an indifferent husband, determined to leave love out of the picture and take hold of life in fast-paced Mumbai. Amita and Zeba, Shehzaadi’s friends live with their own ghosts; a broken marriage and a loveless one, a daughter grown up away from her mother, the importance of holding up a facade of being happy. Butterflies and Barbed Wires tells of women from two different generations grappling with a life and a society that is rapidly changing.
“What are human beings if not butterflies and their complexes, if not barbed wires.”
This is story of women protagonists, their lives and their struggle to get a grip of it and understand it. After reading the blurb and seeing that the story revolving around five women and takes place in the city Hyderabad (which I am still exploring), I got interested in the book. This book has two dimensions: first the women protagonist, who navigate their life based on their past experiences, and the second is the beauty of the Hyderabad city.
The story flash backs to the 1978 Hyderabad riots. 5th August 1978, the day that went down in history as the goriest communal carnage in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, wiping out more than half of the old city. Shehzaadi became a widow and her two year old toddler Sameera went missing in the riots.
Twenty two years later, Shehzaadi is married to Anwar and has a 22 year old son who is studying in London. She is staying in a sprawling Jubliee Hills bungaow, and spends most of her time with her two best friends Zeba and Amita. Shehzaadi lives a fairy tale life, which seems so complete with a doting husband and sensible young son. But was Shehzaadi ever able to forgive herself, for being the only one to survive the 1978 blasts? She missed her first husband and daughter. At one moment she was very cheerful and thankful to God for such a lovely family, at other moment she was in deep despair, wandering about her daughter, suffering from chronic depression. Amita and Zeba were her only friends to whom she can turn to and have a jolly time during such periods, pub-hopping and getting sozzled.
Amita and Zeba had their own difficulties in life. Zeba, 40 years old, was an architect, married to Hamid, a doctor, who treated her as a prized trophy. Zeba was a self made woman, with her hard work and talent. Her success in career catapulted her into Hyderabad high society. But she was lonely inside with husband like Hamid, who gave her a chance to belong to a world she has always yearned for, but not the love and no family to turn to. Amita was a fashion designer, owing a boutique in the heart of Banjara Hills surrounded by five star hotels and the city’s elite residential area, a divorcee who had a teenage daughter. Amita had transformed from a wife into an incorrigible flirt. She had no respect for marriage or commitment. She entranced men and left them pining for more. For her “Borrowed husbands are better than owned husbands because all the harshness is reserved for their wives.”
Maya knows that she was adopted by her Amma and Appa, when she was just 2-years old. But she doesn’t remember anything about her biological parents. Grown up in Bangalore, after her Amma and Appa dies in accident, she moves to Hyderabad and takes up a job in Osmania University. She gives herself a year in Hyderabad in a hope to find her roots here. Her best friend Varsha, loathed Ranga Rao, her father. Her mother, a dynamic MP was indifferent towards her husband. Varsha never understood the meaning of such marriage: man and woman staying below the same roof but having no emotional attachment. When she found love in Som, she was quick to get married and have a loving family, unlike her own parents. But she ended up into a married life no different from her parents, as the communication and love vanished from Varsha and Som’s relationship. For her, what man and woman did to each other in the name of marriage was nothing short of lunacy.
The story goes deep into each of the five women, their experiences in life and how they fight their own demons while figuring out what they seek from life. The book also highlights some social stigma about how the ego gives way to misunderstanding in a relationship, how people make a notion about a person if he/she is not married for long, how people continue to live a life they are not happy with, but are afraid of change. The book shows us picture of people who always puts on a mask to show off to people their sunny side, but are lonely deep inside. It also shows people who pretend to be broad minded yet are petty and judgmental.
“Why on earth, she wondered, did people have to speculate about sexual orientation when somebody preferred to stay single? As though marriage was the ultimate goal in life.”
“They are so much fun to be with. And cheerful. That’s probably why they were called ‘gay’ in the first place. She liked men who were in touch with their feminine side. She felt it made them more sensitive than so-called ‘straight’ men.”
The beauty of the book also lies in the beautiful description of rich and cultural history of hyderabad and the hyderabadi cusines, which are very informative. This book takes us to places, starting from the history of the Qutb Shahi rulers, to the quaint Moazamjahi Market, Golconda, Charminar, Salar Jung museum, Falaknuma Palace, Himayat Sagar lake, Lad Bazaar, Pather Gatti, Banjara Hills, Jubliee Hills. The mouth watering Hyderabadi cuisines are also mentioned in various places deliberately, to let the readers know that there is more to the Hyderabadi Biryani: Tamatar-ka-khat, kaddu-ka-dalcha, dum-ka-murgh, kheema fry with sheemal, baghara khana, double-ka-meetha, sahi tukda, qubani-ka-meetha, kacche-gosht-ki-biryani, mirch-ka-salan.
The book is beautifully written, flowing smoothly from life of one women to another and how their lives are linked to each other. An insightful read, with mix of fun and intense relationships. At places, I felt little confused with so much happing in lives of these women, but I feel, this was because I was reading the book between breaks. Its written so amazingly, peeping into the mind of a woman, and how they think. This is a must read for women and also for men who always wonder about how to understand a woman.
About the Author:
Vanaja Banagiri is the former editor of Hyderabad Times, the Times of India’s city edition. She has been associated with Savvy, Society, Femina, Filmfare, Health & Nutrition and the Economic Times in various editorial capacities. She has also written for the Sunday Observer, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Me and New Woman. She has won many awards for excellence during her journalistic career for her path breaking stories. At forty, she quit active journalism to pursue her long cherished dream of writing a book. Her debut novel Butterflies and Barbed Wires Published by Rupa & Co was released in 2006. She has also authored Hyderabad Hazir Hai and The Placebo Effect. She also writes poetry. She lives in Hyderabad.