Book Title: “The Purple Line”
Author: Priyamvada N. Purushotham
Publisher: Harper Collins, India, 2012,
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The title of the book, “The Purple Line,” refers to purple lines on a pregnancy testing strip. A single straight purple line indicates a negative result, meaning you’re not pregnant; while two purple lines indicate a positive result, meaning that you are pregnant.
Priyamvada N. Purushotham’s debut novel, “The Purple Line,” is a poignant tale of women whose lives cross each other’s in the waiting room of a doctor’s clinic. The story begins in the year 1982 in the city of Chennai where Mrinalini Krishnamoorthy, a schoolgirl at the time, dissects a frog in her zoology class and sees its ovaries floating in water. She decides at this point to become the woman who would bring babies into the world, that she would grow up to be a gynecologist. Later in the evening, when she asks her grandmother about why she had so many children, her grandmother tells her that bearing children was not a choice; it was what women did. Mrinalini decides that when she grows up to be a gynecologist, she will give women a choice.
Fast forward to the new millennium, and Mrinalini has now turned into Dr. Mrinalini Krishnamoorthy, Gynecologist. She has come back from London to set up her clinic in her ancestral home in the city she grew up in, Chennai. From here on, Priyamvada begins to narrate, through Mrinalini, the stories of six of her patients who in some cosmic fashion cross each other’s path without them knowing about it.
Zubeida, a burqa-clad Muslim woman, longs to have a girl after giving birth to three boys, so she could be the mother to her daughter that she never had while growing up. Megha, a mother of two little girls, belongs to a conservative Marwari family that demands a boy from her every time she gets pregnant. Tulsi and Anjolie, apart from failing to get pregnant with their respective husbands after trying for years, have one more thing in common – they are both in love with the same man, who happens to be Tulsi’s husband. Leela, a traditional daughter-in-law, who has never experienced adventure or her authentic self, gives into pleasing everyone around her. And lastly, Pooja, a teenager who falls in love with the school’s cricket captain and gets pregnant.
The description might suggest possible cliché solutions to the problems of these six women. What one needs, belongs to the other; so an exchange would be a predictably cliché solution. However, that is where Priyamvada is different. As Dr. Mrinalini says in the book: “Who was I to change the story?” So the story goes on and the problems continue without any immediate solutions. Even though their lives are understood and narrated by their gynecologist, they continue to hold a sense of mystery, unique moments of realization and their own definition of salvation. In the middle of learning about her patients, Dr. Mrinalini slowly and eventually makes up her mind about her relationship with Sid her love interest in the book.
What is marvelous about “The Purple Line” is its hint of radicalism in the middle-class Indian housewives. However, if one looks closely, Priyamvada doesn’t really come up with a radical story but basically gives an ordinary story its well-earned position. On the sidelines, the book talks about female foeticide, desire for a boy-child, teenage pregnancy and adoption.
Through Mrinalini, Priyamvada, crusades for reproductive rights of women in a new India where women who do not want to have children to ever need not be termed selfish, and where women who decide to get an abortion can do it without being made to feel guilty about it. And most importantly, Priyamvada does not confuse the idea of womanhood with the idea of ability to give birth. In the book Dr. Mrinalini while describing a medical procedure called hysterectomy that she had performed on a 25-year-old says:
I felt that I was removing her womanhood, that I was robbing her of her womb before she had even made love for the first time. But now I realize I was wrong; I could remove it all and she would still be a woman, a living, breathing, thinking woman, because we are what we are inside our heads and not inside our bodies.
Thus, she is successful in refraining from making a book, more or less about women and pregnancies, sound as a feminine offshoot of a patriarch’s view of a woman’s body.
Priyamvada is good at humour and handles emotions of love, confusion, infidelity, and helplessness splendidly.
The book is a mix of soul-wrenching moments and resilience. A perfect read for silent weekend afternoons.
[Note: Jamia Journal will be announcing a giveaway for this book on our facebook page soon. ‘Like” our facebook page (facebook.com/JamiaJournal) to be notified when we do.]