There are love stories. Then there are love stories with a difference. The Anatomy of Choice (TAoC) by Harshali Singh falls in the latter category.
TAoC is the second book in the Haveli series and the first of the series that I read. I found the plot strong enough to stand on its own and didn’t feel unfamiliar without reading the first part. TAoC leaves its readers with an effect that lingers long after reading it.
The complicated relationship between the headstrong and proud second daughter of the Sharma family – Bhavya – and her live-in partner Tenzin forms the core of the romantic story. And yet TAoC is a story of strong women. The sweet yet strong matriarch of the family, Uma, who is a loving mother to all her children, yet possesses a steel core beneath the veneer. Aruna, the eldest Sharma daughter, who is happily busy in her second marriage and yet does not hesitate to her parents and sisters’ side whenever they need support. Noorie, the courtesan from many centuries ago, who died pining for her so-near-yet-so-far love, but whose influence is pervasive in the life of Bhavya and her father, Arun. The magnificent Haveli at Chandni Chowk, the story’s narrator personified as a female, towers above all.
The bold and unconventional beginning that unfolds with a triangular relationship between Bhavya, her partner Tenzin and the other guy, Kabir, sets the tone for the rest of the story. The one-night fantastical relationship has far-reaching consequences in the lives of Bhavya and Tenzin in Paris. Circumstances lead Bhavya to leave Paris and return to her family in the Haveli. The catch? Bhavya is pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. Will she go back to her life in Paris, and Tenzin, forms the crux of the story.
It would be simplistic to consider the story as one of ego and indecisiveness of the central female protagonist. At first glance, Bhavya comes across as a shallow, self-centred and proud girl who wants to live life on her own terms without considering the feelings of others. Scratch beneath the surface, and you will see a mask of bravado shielding all the hurt and insecurities. Bhavya is as complex as the rest of the humans; even though she is unique, there’s a bit of Bhavya in all of us. Though the centrepiece of the story, I wish the author could have devoted more pages to the vulnerable and insecure side of Bhavya; she could have come across as more relatable then.
Despite the powerful female characters, it is Tenzin – the male protagonist – who stands out in the story. From the mask of restraint and self-control that he puts on to cover his longing for Bhavya to the freedom that he gives his lady-love to pursue a friendship that gives him pain to the heartache he feels when his lover leaves him to the realisation that dawns on him that accepting Bhavya on her terms is better than having no Bhavya in his life – Tenzin makes readers root and feel for him. Halfway through the novel, you start to wish and pray that Bhavya and Tenzin unite, and you almost clap when it happens towards the end, albeit with a twist.
But the narration is the overall hero of the book. With the personifications of the inanimate and the dead, the present intermingled with the flashbacks, and the epistolary format enmeshed with the soliloquies, the book is a masterclass in all fiction writing formats. Love triumphs time, geographies, age, and even oneself is the motif of TAoC. That includes the love of and for the family.
Some of my favourite lines from the book include:
\\ Can a heart break again… and again and still be called a heart, an organ that gives life?
\\ What is right and what do you call wrong? What may be right for you may be wrong for someone else. We make our own rights and wrongs… there is no line, no dayra.
\\ The feral beast roared at her words, snapping its sharp jaws at the freedom it could taste, feeling the cracks in the impervious tower that caged it within.
\\ We are like any other married couple – bitter, unfortunate in our choice and yet unable or unwilling to leave each other.
Taking care of all the male mindsets, narrow in some places and broad in others, the author has allowed the heroine of her story to achieve that freedom she desires. We all are different. So is Bhavya and her choices, but in the end, you will appreciate her for who she is and how she thinks. Yet it is her man who you will understand more and root for, and that is where I feel that Singh could have made Bhavya’s character more likeable and relatable.
The Anatomy of Choice is a unique book with strong female characters that one must surely read. I would rate this book a 4.4 out of 5 and am now reaching out for the other books in the series.