Writer Smita Das Jain reviews the book Boys Don't Cry by Meghana Pant.
That marriage makes love go out of the window is an oft-repeated joke. Reading Boys Don’t Cry makes you think that a marriage without love is still the better part of the deal, and a woman can end up paying too heavy a price for getting married- notwithstanding a love marriage.
The book pits its protagonist Maneka Pataudi against the antagonists—her husband Suneet Sodhi, his parents, and Samit—Suneet’s elder half-brother. Her only unlikely ally in a foreign land is Kamini, Samit’s wife and another daughter-in-law driven to despair by the Sodhi family.
Maneka and Suneet fall in love and agree to marry each other after a quick whirlwind romance. An incident of violence three weeks before her marriage makes Maneka question her decision, but she ignores the voices inside her head to go with her heart. Plus, there was the matter of family honour. What follows is a brutal saga of abuse, physical and emotional violence and domestic workload that leads a happy Maneka to lose her confidence, self-worth, independence, money and ability to make decisions.
Maneka gets the courage to walk out of the marriage once but, wanting to avoid the ‘divorcee’ stigma, decides to give her marriage a second chance, this time in another foreign land. Only to have history repeat itself. After eight years of physical and mental abuse, she finally decides that getting divorced is a lot better than staying in a hellish marriage and even throws a lavish divorce party after it comes through. However, on the day of the party, her ex-husband dies of poisoning and Maneka is arrested as the prime suspect. Whether Maneka has a hand in the death of Suneet even though she was on another part of the globe on the day of the incident forms the crux of the story.
Boys Don’t Cry is not for the faint-hearted. It is neither one of those mushy romances where the couples kiss and make up after minor conflicts nor a feel-good book where troubled beginnings and messy middles give way to happy endings. Instead, it is an unconventional read for trudging a path where few Indian books had trod before, laying bare the secrets behind the closed-door Indian marriages. You will begin, read and end the text with a sense of shock and awe, and the story’s hangover will remain for a few days.
The beauty of the book lies in the descriptive devices employed generously across all the chapters. The reader will feel, see, hear, celebrate and cry with the protagonist—and it is here that Pant demonstrates her mastery. In some places, the prose reads like poetry, at others, you marvel at the author’s imagination in using the metaphors that she does. The author has mentioned in the acknowledgement that it took eight years for her to write the book. The effort shines in the output.
While the story of marital abuse, patriarchal systems and women’s issues worked for me, the sudden transition of the heart-wrenching tale to a crime thriller was too jarring for my taste. The ending did not answer the ‘did-she-didn’t-see’ question, making me wonder whether Pant has planned a sequel for the story. After a point, the tale of violence and abuse gets repetitive and predictable. When Maneka decided to give her marriage a second chance, I felt like pulling my hair out, knowing that it would end up in the disaster it did. I found it hard to believe that a working, educated woman could be so naïve and blind, but then I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors around me. Pant should be lauded for making us realise that all that we see from our eyes is not necessarily the truth. A passing mention of mental health issues in the book did not do full justice to the topic, making me wonder if the author got too ambitious in attempting to highlight all the ills plaguing society.
Nothing takes away from the boldness of the subject, the beauty of the narration, and calling-a-spade-a-spade-like dialogues in Boys Don’t Cry. Some of the scenes and thoughts of the protagonist resonated with me as a woman. The scene where Maneka laments about her cooking in the kitchen and serving other family members at the table when the other folks in the house watched TV and called out this behaviour (even to herself) as not normal alone made me laugh and want to whistle and clap out loud for Pant. This is the first instance of a mainstream Indian author stating that household chores are not a woman’s responsibility alone, and Pant deserves kudos for that.
A lot of phrases stood out for me, some of my favourite lines being:
\\ To brush the bloom, you have to tear the flower from its stem
\\ That's the problem with owning something so beautiful. You have to watch it die
\\ There are only so many battles you can pick in a marriage, and mine already had much larger ones.
\\ Because even glass has to crack before it breaks. And my time to break was still to come.
\\ You don’t crawl out of a divorce. You carry it around like a brick in your pocket, a weight you can never lift.
I read somewhere that this book is being made into a major motion picture. After reading it, I can see why. This story needs to reach out to more people and deserves the big screen.
Boys Don’t Cry will disturb the reader for days after they finish reading its last page. And therein lies its strength.