What a breath-taking ride this book has been!
Initially, I thought the book would have political undercurrents since it describes how Aarti, a Kashmiri Pandit, loses her home and half her family to terrorists. But then the narrative launches into the ups and downs of Aarti’s life—and there’s no looking back. The pace never lets up, even when mundane details are described, so you feel compelled to keep reading.
How can a girl be so unfortunate, you think, that her own relatives forsake her? You shed tears for Aarti when she loses her mother and her house. You will her to be gutsy and strong when she is mistreated by a husband or a relative. You hope that the next man in her life is more deserving of her. In particular, you feel for Aarti’s father who has not only lost his homeland, but also his wife and most of his earthly possessions. He has an army job which causes his long-time Kashmiri Muslim friends to shun him out of fear for their lives and property. I, for one, could feel every bit of the pain of the wronged and displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
You grit your teeth when you see the opportunist, Priya, manipulate Aarti in the guise of helping her. It is a prominent reminder of the fact that nobody offers help without expecting something in return, either in cash or kind. You feel like screaming at Aarti when she hands over stolen money to Priya for safekeeping. There’s an entire monologue by Priya where she speaks about men in terms of the utmost contempt. The feeling supposedly stems from having been sexually harassed by an uncle in childhood. It makes you think whether one can blame the change in one’s personality solely on traumatic incidents that have happened in one’s past, or it is just an excuse to be wicked.
It is only towards the end of the story that you realize how dangerous and cunning (and jealous!) Priya is, and how she applies her theory of “survival of the fittest” on Aarti once the latter surpasses her in wealth and fame.
But is Aarti truly defeated by her erstwhile “mentor?” The epilogue seems to suggest otherwise. For an optimist like me, this was truly the best part of the book. I was rooting for Aarti all along—for her to find her voice and get a firm footing—without Priya’s “help.” Perhaps she did become her own person, after all!
In captioning the book “Ballad of a Belle,” Rahul Tushar has captured the essence of the narrative but, at the same time, has cleverly hidden the myriad facets of the story that make it much more than just a tale of a small-town girl’s life. Written in simple, straightforward language, Tushar manages to capture the attention of the reader from the prologue, which deals with a grisly double murder mystery, to the epilogue, which gives one hope that all is not rotten with the world.
(I was offered a copy of the book by Literoma Publishing Services in exchange for an honest review.)