Friday, 25 March 2016

The Curse of Damini - Debajani Mohanty

A story about women and their place in society.
photo courtesy:

Sounds routine but with the setting of the zamindari era infused with Bangla culture and a strong female protagnist, now that is an interesting concoction indeed.

Let me make the disclaimer here. I got this book to review from the author in return for an honest review and the post aims to do just that.

Looking out for emerging Indian voices is a much loved habit and my trips back home always include browsing bookstores, checking out new trends and voices in Indian writing.

Of late, there has been a plethora of mythological fiction crowding the Indian fiction shelves. Ramayana, Mahabharata and all other popular stories have been rehashed with characters telling their version, offering a new twist to an age old tale. However, it was all getting too formulaic and I was glad to come across a book which offered me something different.


Set in the pre-independence era we meet Renuka, a spirited girl from the zamindar family who makes a terrific entry at the start of the book. However, her promising life takes a surprise turn when her father dies and she is married off at a young age.

The circumstances of the marriage are quite interesting and soon she enters her husband's household and becomes privy to the age-old curse that has been haunting the Roy Chaudhury family for generations.

The story focusses on the women characters and their place in society. The plot spans years and generations and shows how the choices made by the women characters - Renuka, Papia and Mandira - shapes their lives and destinies.

What works:
  • The structure: The story pans out well, the time period and the characters blend seamlessly and the atmosphere is so evocatively created.
  • The period feeling: The independence movement and the patriotic passion in youngsters is well conveyed. Also the zamindari feel for traditions and status comes across very well.
  • The characters. Renuka and Mandira are strong women whose personas are very well etched out. My favourite though is Mandira, the bolder one who defies conventions.
  • The story. It was interesting to see how this penniless girl manages to work her way through life and make a success of it in a highly patriarchial society.
  • The strong voice of the narrator is undeniable and adds to the force of the story.
  • The conversation between Renuka and Mandira at the end was well handled and was a scene that had me mulling over it.
  • The romance between Shekhar and Renuka is very subtle and subdued, well handled.
  • The use of Bangla sentences and phrases gave it a more Indian feel, while adding a new dimension to the story.
  • The wedding and death rituals are explained beautifully and offered insight into the Bangla traditions.
What doesn't:
  • At one point it attempts to become a social treatise. The last speech of Renuka is a bit loaded and goes overboard in its ardour. 
  • The first half lays out the story so well but the second half seems like it was rushing through to get to the end. The latter part had more information rather than scenes that helped the story move forward. It could have been a bit more elaborate, with the second half taking its time to unfurl the story.
  • "The curse of Damini" which was dominant in the first half, fizzles out in the second part of the book. Though there is an explanation, it seems a bit lost towards the end.
  • The exclamation marks could have been toned down. Perhaps that's the pedantic me, but it felt like the story was shouting out for attention when it already had it.
Overall a great read. Though the themes are heavy, it is a light read that can easily be finished in a couple of sittings. 

It clearly has the potential to be a opus considering the time span and the generations it covers. Perhaps, the writer was mindful of the length because of the short attention span of today's reader. However, the story and the writing work very well and make for an enjoyable read.

Mohanty has an engaging style that keeps the reader hooked. It will be interesting to see what she writes next.

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