Published by Bloomsbury
Publication date: December 13th 2016
Often the first person narrative is used by an author to create doubt in the mind of the reader. Ratika Kapur does the opposite in her novel, The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma, with a narrator who calmly tells the truth about her actions from the novel’s beginning to its end. She is a respectable woman—a wife and mother who works at a doctor’s office in Delhi, India. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her fifteen-year-old son and her in-laws while her husband lives and works in Dubai, earning money they need to buy a home. He’s been gone for almost two years, but despite missing him Mrs. Sharma knows it is necessary in order to have the life they want.
Into Mrs. Sharma’s crowded but orderly life comes a young man named Vineet. He takes the same train as she does each day and after he stands up for her to a rude man she accepts his invitation to go for coffee. Soon they meet several times a week—which is fine as she comes from a very good family, is happily married and is a proper wife. Mostly, she just likes the company and nothing untoward happens even as she becomes more involved in his life without ever divulging much of her own. After all, if he never asks why is there any reason to tell him she is thirty-seven, with a husband and a teenage son?
The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma could be a very simplistic tale of one harried woman’s life and how she copes, but Kapur fills Renuka Sharma with such force and personality that she is anything but one-dimensional. She holds onto her respectability even as her life frays. She freely acknowledges that as a good, honest woman and employee she only skims money from the office when the price of onions go up because she has a teenager to feed. A teenager who quickly becomes the breaking point in her carefully constructed reality.
I had been feeling a little bit odd, and I had thought that this feeling was confusion, and I don’t like to feel confused because confusion is actually a sickness, a sickness suffered by the weak-minded, and I don’t like to boast, but I am not a weak-minded person normally, I am actually a person who has a lot of strength…
There are many aspects of The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma that read well for me, but the view of a life so far removed from my own stands out. Fiction aside, families where husbands go to a place like Dubai to earn enough money to afford a home is a reality. The perspective shakes up the brain and provides understanding of a woman pushed past the point of being able to live life as it has been constructed for her. And so it goes for Renuka, a respectable woman who, as she begins to lie to others, still holds herself to the truth—even when the two are on a path to collide and she is in the middle.