Amritsar born Manju Kapur is an Indian novelist, whose first novel, “Difficult Daughters” had won the 1999 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, best first book, Europe and South Asia. She has studied M.A from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada (in 1972) and an M. Phil from Delhi University. Now, she teaches English at Delhi University under the name Manjul Kapur Dalmia.
Difficult Daughters is about educating daughters, who, after they learn to think for themselves, begin questioning the basic values and hypocrisy of the society. The story moves between the demands of modernity and set traditions. The novel is set in an straight, high-minded, middle-class Punjabi family in the outset of 1930s and '40s during partition. It throws light on the conservatism prevailing in Amritsar. The climax is centered around Virmati, who seeks something beyond wedlock.
Through her stories, Manju Kapur touch bases social themes like marriage, girl education, dowry, religion, superstitious beliefs, etc. She also addresses different socio-political issues in the country. Not just that, she is never scard of talking about things like female sexuality, infertility, sexual abuse and dysfunction, etc. However, she focuses on the affects of both men and women in the family.
Virmati, a young woman born in Amritsar, who has seen the deadening child-bearing existence of her frail mother, wants a life with her own terms and conditions. She was born to a high and open minded family. She idealizes Shakuntala, her cousin, who is educated, sophisticated and, lives in Lahore.
Virmati falls in love with her neighbor. He is a England returned professor, and already married. Quite complicated! But the professor marries her and keeps her in his home (alongside with his first and furious wife). He also helps her towards studying in Lahore, which is a bit of consolation for Virmati’s scandalized family. But eventually, Virmati finds out that the battle for her own self- independence along with the country’s has created irreversible partitions and sufferings in her life. Though it is difficult to include Lahore’s pre-freedom days, the author has quite beautifully described the same. The novel shows Lahore, strolling on the streets of the city, spending time in Anarkali Bazaar, observing IPTA’s politics, music, literature and more. The author has done an extensive research for five years to write this novel.
Though the author has been able to portray the character of Virmita, she has portrayed the other characters almost with wooden persona. Professor was an irritating person and a coward who bursts many clouds while talking, but doesn’t even drop a pin while doing. Big things talked, less done. Virmati is forced to abort the child of Harish asthe professor is reluctant and afraid to marry her. Finally, at the insistence of a friend, the professor is forced into marrying her. The story also moves on to the domestic issues and deals with the women of three generations.
Publisher: Penguin Books
Available on: Amazon India
Price: Rs 333 (Paperback)