Love in the time of Emergency
In the 1970s, life in Delhi meant a Rajesh Khanna movie at Regal or a walk in the Nehru Park. Then came the Emergency imposed by the ruling Indira Gandhi government which changed life of many not just in the Capital but rest of the country too. And that forms the crux of Srishti Chaudhary's Once Upon a Curfew published by Penguin India. It charts the love story between its protagonists that runs on as many varying shades as the Delhi weather from a passionate summer to freezing winter numbness.
The story, set in 1974, begins with a chance encounter between the two protagonists Indu and Rana that soon blossoms into a love story with the usual twists and turns. Indu, just like her namesake is a fiery girl, and doesn't like to be told what she should be doing. Rana, the young lawyer who helps her start the library, is a young man with his
heart on his sleeve. To be married soon to her fiancé studying in London, Indu embarks on an ambitious project to turn her grandmother's house into a library for women. It's also a place where she falls in love with Rana and has to decide whether to choose the comfort of a London home with her fiancé or follow the footsteps of the maverick Rana.
What starts as a simple place where women could sit and read soon becomes a platform for them to start picking up new skills, pursue their passion and chase their dreams. The author beautifully brings out different women characters, delves deep into their insecurities and brings their forgotten dreams to the forefront. The love story of Indu and Rana often takes a cue or two from the charming Rajesh Khanna and docile Sharmila Tagore as depicted in Bollywood movies of that era. You can't help but imagine Rana and Indu in their shoes. There are enough dialogues, camaraderie and action in the book to keep the reader hooked throughout transporting them to a 70s-era film.
But Once Upon a Curfew isn't just about these two star-struck lovers. There are several relationships that the author explores besides the main romance. It's the story of two sisters who are each other's keepers. It's also the story of two close friends who will go to any extent for each other. It's also the story of a disgruntled fiancé and his rogue brother, a resolute leader and a bright woman with ideology, a domestic help and her daughter who struggle to break the class divide and a carefree driver who is oblivious to everything outside the Ambassador car he drives.
The book is divided into three parts each one centering around the political climate of the city, its season and the protagonists love story. Though there aren't too many characters, yet the ones who are there are beautifully presented, from the way they dress to their accent. They help the story to move forward and without them half the charm of the book would have lost. On the surface, the book may look like a love story, but one that goes beyond it to question several societal norms, class-divide, political patronage and so on. The book is a social commentary with political run-ins too.
What works in its favour is the simple story, crisp language and powerful narration.
ONCE UPON A CURFEW SRISHTI CHAUDHARY PENGUIN; Rs 299