Random House India (2011)
In the bitter divorce battles that are becoming all too common these days, the power centres are the children, who are ironically powerless. By warring over their custody, the parental ego claims victory or otherwise – but all too shallow at the end of it all. Don’t you think so?
It is this bitterness and upheaval in the families that Manju Kapur has attempted to depict in her novel ‘Custody’. Shagun is a very beautiful woman, married to a ‘successful’ man Raman, who seems to have it all – a good job in a very respectable company, great salary with perks and two lovely kids Arjun and Roohi. In comes Ashok – Raman’s suave, handsome and dashing boss, and Shagun starts finding her husband too boring, and is drawn to his boss instead. Things get serious, and Shagun leaves Raman to be with Ashok. The messy divorce battles begin – the biggest contention being the custody of the children. How the custody battle ends, and new bonds are being formed while the old ones are scrambling to end with dignity is what the novel is all about.
Manju Kapur’s forte is her nuanced writing of the human follies. Her characters, especially women, are very well etched out. Unfortunately, she loses her touch in this novel. In her effort to be non-judgemental about Shagun’s character, she does not go deep in the description of her character or the reasons of her choices. Raman is reduced to an object of sympathy, for the other characters of the novel as well as for the reader. While not going into the details of the relationship between Shagun and Raman is understandable, there’s not much being said about Shagun’s bond with Ashok either. What was it that Ashok was offering that Raman could not, and she was happy to leave behind her stable home? Ashok and Ishita, the woman in Raman’s life after Shagun, are caricatures at best. Shagun’s mother is again reduced to a very superficial character, going along with her daughter’s wishes like a puppet. While Roohi is too young to understand what’s going on around her, Arjun is a bit grown up, and Kapur does some justice, bringing out his fears and apprehensions, and giving space to the bonding between Ashok and Arjun. You do feel sorry for the kids, embroiled in the battle of egos between their parents, reduced to pawns – amounting to not more than pieces of papers of communication between the two of them.
Kapur’s description of the upper and middle class lives in Delhi in the 90s is spot on, and you can imagine it going on right in front of your eyes – the nosy neighbors, the jealousy between families, the swish set planning holidays abroad, and of course ‘the Brand’, where Raman and Ashok work. But all said and done, ‘Custody’ is not a patch on Kapur’s earlier work – ‘Difficult Daughers’ and ‘Home’.