Rebecca West, 1913 had once commented about feminism saying,
I myself have never known what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.
Sahitya Akademi winner, Alka Saraogi’s novel, Over to You, Kadambari is about Ruby, a strong - willed social worker of seventy, involved in a perennial attempt at escaping her loneliness with the multi-faceted woes prevalent in the so-called malevolent society. Her clients leave her desperately turning the pages of her past, which she can hardly evade. Kadambari, her grand daughter is her link to the present and uncertain tomorrow. But Ruby, like the rest, dotes on her, and continually strives to live up to the latter’s expectations.
Saraogi’s story-telling is smooth, with the usual bouts of expectancy and the succeeding lows. Her language has the comforting Indian-ness of emotions and prejudices, much like R.K. Narayan’s lucid narration. Ruby-di’s loneliness is sure to nudge one to think of the neglected Rosy in Guide.
The well-read author deftly plucks crucial, social, political and economic incidents (read ‘accidents’) and assigns significant space to each of them in her homely canvas. The reader comes across Devidutt Mama, as a struggler frantically searching for a worthy principle all his life. His encounters during the freedom fiasco, meetings with Gandhiji, participation in multiple movements in and around Sabarmati, spurs him further to carry on with his “self-assumed role of deciphering the causes of all the world’s ills”.
Blessed with two families and brought up in wealth, Ruby was never a blind disciple of Devidutt Mama, precisely because she could never really fathom his averse comments on her father, whom she loved so deeply. The drama oscillates between the past and the present with such fluidity, that very often the line of difference is smudged with tears of nostalgia.
Over to You, Kadambari unfolds the journey of a woman who is always blamed with two major failings – her education and her rich upbringing. Sudhir, her husband, clothed his shy, unmanly mediocrity with loathsome glances at her social equals. What strikes us about Ruby’s journey is the constant presence of the Invisible Man in her soul. And the past is reborn again and again with twenty-five year old Kadambari’s intense interest in the man’s life.
The novel closes with Ruby’s frustrations at failing to support Savita, one of the many victims of a modern yet polluted social garden. Social worker Ruby writes her will, and redeems herself of pangs of guilt.
Alka Saraogi pays a grand tribute to the essence of womanhood through crystal pictures of the aging streetwalker Maya Bose, a helpless Savita and the partly confused partly benevolent Ruby. Saraogi’s attempt at condensing an ambitious, yet lonely woman’s entire existence is applaudable. She never quite sounds like a loud-mouthed feminist defying norms, yet all the same emphasizes that a woman is not an ignorable ‘doormat’, but an entity whose need for respect can never be undermined.
Click here to read the interview of Alka Saraogi