In Love and Free by Jagdish Joghee is a novel which looks at the nature of relationships very closely in modern society and questions the precepts on which we base the expectations of a relationship.
Shruthi is a modern South Indian girl, she has been blessed with everything in life. She has had a perfect life- a rich supportive family, a good education and a loving boyfriend who later becomes her husband. Even her in-laws were loving and supportive and she was later blessed with two kids.
However, the thing that hold Shruthi back is that she’s always been overprotective and she has never had to take a fall in her life. Thus, despite being a very happy person she finds herself in an extra-marital relationship with her neighbor Rahul.
What I find very funny, whether it be the attitude of the writer or the character only, that the same person who gives up her career after her marriage with Madhan (apparently because he was already earning very well and she had no drive to have a standing of her own) under the guise of ‘motherhood’ later tries to moralize extramarital affairs (done without the knowledge and consent of her partner who trusted her so much and was loyal to the core with her) throughout the novel. Not to mention, her extra-marital affairs affected her parenting as well, she ended up neglecting her kids when they needed her the most.
While the question raised about society enforcing on monogamous relationships as a rule is valid and worth thinking about, however, given Shruthi’s situation, it’s very alarming that the author has tried to justify ‘adultery’ as a form of polygamy till the end of the novel whereas there have been humongous questioning of why women should work after marriage. (The protagonist seemed to lack a drive for self-development and responsibility throughout the novel).
The hypocritical nature in the development of this character brings out the question as to what kind of female protagonists do contemporary male writers seem to portray. While a woman’s desire to balance self-reliance and motherhood is questioned; infidelity as a form of polygamy (even at the cost of upkeep of children and family) has been justified till the end. I wonder if this form of polygamy is justified for men?
Shruthi has been in love with two men. While she says she loves her husband who toils so hard for her and does his best to provide her and their kids a safe and secured childhood; she also loves her best friend’s husband secretly.
However, when she realizes the hidden motive behind Rahul’s love and more importantly the fact that he was having another affair through his wife, her views on polygamy magically changes and she starts hating Rahul for having cheated on her all the while.
Despite having information over how Rahul was secretly planning to harm both his wife and Shruthi, she makes very less effort to actually act upon it and take responsibility. Neither she tries to apologize to her husband nor her best friend. The only luck she had saving her from a life-debiliating situation was her luck, her father’s money and her husband’s blind love.
Though the initial premise of the novel is very promising, like:
* how the protagonist compares her life and challenges with the sea, sometimes powerful other times crashing and some other times silent and weak. She beautifully relates her life situations and choices with the Sea as a witness and a silent strength.
* in her monologues about how society views relationships and polygamy. The expectations, rules versus the matters of heart
However, the threads which looked very promising were left loose by the author. There was a very weak character building, and questioning of morality was a very dubious and hypocritical in nature. As a protagonist, I would say Shruthi did not contain much strength nor content. She did very less, rather she took further self-sabotaging choices when she was given a chance to act upon her ‘ideas’. It is shown that Shruthi as a character never truly grows. True to her upbringing, she relied on fate and ‘adults’ taking care of her dirty business.
She does questions morality in society, but only when it suits her personal interest and caters to her own convenience and her personal gains. In places where morality tested her own discretion and required her to make tough choices, standing up for herself and others, she falled short because her contemplation only came from a place of self appeasement.
I think this is a major turn off for this book because if the characters don’t manage to teach you something valuable in this already complex moral society, what is the point of raising questions in the first place? Liberal views are good when the precepts of it are same for both the genders. Here we see a topsy side of the patriarchal society- while the woman questions her right to freedom, she’s enraged and hurt when a man is put in the same position.
If she so believed in an extra-marital affair as polygamy, why did she judge Rahul when she found he had another woman in his life? Wasn’t she doing the same with Madhan, her husband, as he was doing with her?
If she believed in polygamy, shouldn’t she have conveyed this to the person she called her soulmate and the one who fought till the end for her?
Also, if she accuses a working woman to be neglecting her role as a mother, why did she neglect her own children (and her in-laws’) because of her affair?
Is there a clear message being sent by these contradictory views? Is Shruthi a quintessential ideal character for a modern patriarchal mindset, catering to male fantasies? While she’s allowed to be sex-starved, she’s not allowed to be a strong, independent and a self-reliant person.
There’s also this question of how a woman in modern times receiving trust and support from her in-laws abuses the freedom right behind their back. And she’s never questioned for it!
Throughout, we find Shruthi’s character to be very childish and insensitive to other’s concerns. Even at the climax when she was acquainted with the choice to act upon her mistakes, she does very little to apologize genuinely and set things right. She infact, as usual, relies on her fate and her Dad to take hold of the situation.
The writing style used in the book is casual and easy for a reader, and in the end the story suddenly takes up pace. There have been instances where the tension has been built well. The characters are very realistic, even Shruthi’s character in my opinion because she questioned the moral standards of the society only when she saw the thrill and adventure in it. However, when the initial honeymoon phase was over and it was time for tough choices and taking up a stand, she began to question her own liberal views!