Ladies Coupe

Akhila – 45, single, income-tax clerk. The tween who took up the role of provider when her father died. A woman who has never been allowed to live her own life – until the day she gets herself a one-way ticket to the seaside town of Kanyakumari. In the intimate atmosphere of the Ladies Coupe, Akhila asks the five women the question that has been haunting her. Can a woman be happy on her own, or does she need a man to feel complete?

It’s in this compartment that five women of different ages and backgrounds come together, sharing private moments, and each one’s story casts a perspective on the question in the theme. Each woman has been a victim of male domination of some sort. Each has struggled to establish her identity. Some failed, some succeeded and some managed to stay afloat.

Janaki is an elderly, and recounts the years of ups and downs with her husband whom she has known since she was a baby. Her lesson is that while she could have made it alone, she’d rather have had the companionship of her husband and friend, and she does.

Sheela is the teen voice, and talks of the death of her grandmother, Ammumma. Ammumma is a spirited old matriarch, who’s ruled her children with an iron fist. When she is dying of cervical cancer, she is misunderstood and considered insane by all her brood except Sheela. It is Sheela, the 13 year old, who understands why Ammumma applies talcum powder and make up so carefully, why she overeats, and the intention behind her strict rules.

Margaret Shanti, a chemistry teacher, is married to the principal of the school she teaches in. Hers is a love match that grows into the realization that her handsome husband is a sadistic control freak, who takes perverse pleasure in breaking people’s spirits with humiliating remarks or [in case of his students] callous punishments. He coaxes Margaret into aborting their first pregn ancy, opening the floodgates of resentment and friction. Finally, Margaret exacts revenge by coaxing him to eating more, giving up his diet-conscious lifestyle until he is obese and loses both his shape and razor-edged sarcasm.

Prabha Devi is a 40 years old matron from a wealthy background, and married at 18. During a trip to New York with her husband, she cultivated the look, style and confidence of the Western women. Bac home, her high heels and flirtatious confidence attracted the wrong kind of attention from a husband’s friend who makes advances at her. Prabha Devi is terrified at the repercussions and retreats into a shell, dutifully waiting for her husband and giving birth to babies. Life goes back to being dull. One day she decides to change herself again now that her children are grown up. She learns to swim, and regains her confidence.

Mariakolanthu, a poor village-woman now talks of her life, rife with injustice. She is employed by the Chettiar to take care of his grandson. She grows up, taking care of the baby and forms a bond with Sujatha Akka, the mother. When Mariakolanthu is raped by the Chettiar’s son and gets pregnant, all atempts to abort the baby prove futile and a boy is born. She hates the baby and refuses to nurse him.

Mariakolanthu’s story has a stronger feminist take from all the other women we have heard so far. It explores the lesbian affair of two foreign nurses Maria works for, and subsequently her lesbian relationship with Sujatha Akka. It deals with the crushing injustices of poverty and rape. Even though she is poor and lower class, Maria is the strongest woman in this book. Her experience has left her free from both physical and emotional dependence on men. To Akhila’s question, she seems to say, yes women are completely able to b e happy by themselves – whatever men can do, women can do better.


10 Responses to “Ladies Coupe”

  1. Women definitely have more emotional intelligence and are versatile but that cannot be made a sweeping statement. Madam curie is the only well known inventor but the reason for that could be that women have to be homemakers as well. My son’s classtacher told me how she had to give up her career aspirations for the sake of her children. That is sad because women are individuals and the need for self actualization is as relevant for them as men- Make your passion your profession

  2. Hiren, it is my undertanding that NO sweeping statements can be [or should be] made concerning the sexes, neither about emotional intelligence nor rationality nor any other kind of intelligence.

    i know women who are successful, intelligent and independent, and men who are complete twits. i also know men who are emotionally beautiful and sensitive [this is because they don’t bother to brood upon why women are intellectually defunct because Madam Curie is one of those very few women who ever won the Nobel and therefore the biological urge to mother and nurture takes precedence over their IQ] and also women who have all the perceptiveness and compassion of a rock.

    i am sorry to hear about your son’s class teacher. presumably she is one of the type of people who will blame circumstances instead of dusting their butt and getting on with life. i think the biggest crime in the world is to have a baby when you do not have the energy or cannot make the emotional and financial commitment for raising it the best way you can.

    as far as the book is concerned, it is a lovely book that captured the conficts in relationships – married or otherwise – and it would do to remember that the writer is a woman.

  3. Love the premise of the book; love your review. Now the only thing that remains is for me to read the book. I saw the book so many times when I went shopping at “Crossword” in Bangalore – how I wish I had picked it up then. I am also struck by the really nice cover – I know they tell you never to judge a book by it, but a good over can make the reading experience that much more pleasant.

  4. @Lotus: never fear – i picked it up from the TPL circuit. if you put it on hold, it will arrive shortly. it’s an easy read, which you’ll do up in a couple of sittings, am sure. oh, and the cover i got was from a later, paprback edition – the earlier version has a dowdy, sepia photograph with a woman looking out of the bars of a train compartment.

  5. I made a very exciting discovery this afternoon – I have a book by Anita Nair sitting here on my bookshelf – it’s called “Mistress” and it is about a Kathakali dancer. Have you read that one yet? Thanks for the pointing me to the TPL, I never thought to look there!

  6. @Lotus: nope, i haven’t read Mistress yet. this one was my first Nair book, though the author is fairly well known, even in the francophone circles, because apparently she also scribes in french. at this point, i do get most [er, ALL] of my stuff from the TPL. my haunt is the Lillian H Smith branch. what’s yours?

  7. I’ve been to the Lillian H Smith branch for their book sale a couple of times, but as we live in the GTA, it’s the OPL for me, however, if my library doesn’t have the book there’s always the TPL for an inter-library loan!

    I hope I can get to “Mistress” soon – we had the good fortune of watching a couple of wonderful Kathakali performances in Cochin earlier this year and I have a new found appreciation for the dance and the dancers.

  8. @Lotus: hmm, the oakwood branch? i will try to pick Mistress, but at the moment, am totally out of control with my library holds and deadlines.
    i prefer bharatnatyam and kuchipudi myself, because coming from Andhra, i have simply been more exposed to it, and so far, found kathakali to be slightly ludicrous, if not sinister. am looking forward to more understanding, which will lead to appreciation. perhaps. let’s wait and see.

  9. We saw the most amazing “Kuchipudi” recital at the Kalanidhi Dance Festival at the Harbourfront recently – that dancing on the brass plates just blew me away. Kathakali fascinates me because there are no props -everything must be conveyed mostly with the eyes – makes my eyes water just to watch them roll their eyes over and over!

  10. @ Lotus: i know exactly what you mean! did take a look at your anthropologist wannabe page and enjoyed hearing about the dance forms.

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