This is my first book by the author. And I must say that the book held me captive from the first page. She explores very emotional topics with much fervor.
In today’s society divorce and fight for child custody is a common scenario. Manju Kapur has been described as the great chronicler of the modern Indian family. Thus, her book Custody presents a riveting story of how a loving family falls apart at the seams and all that is left is an emotional and spite-filled battle between the parents for the hearts and souls of their children.
Story: Raman and Shagun have a perfect marriage in the eyes of the society. He is a market executive at a global drinks company. She is extraordinarily beautiful. But the reality is far from what is shown by the couple. The two are blessed with a son and daughter – life is complete, so to speak. However, things change dramatically when Shagun is introduced to Ashok, Raman’s boss. The loving couple are reduced to spiteful and malicious enemies as they battle for custody of their children. As the children’s lives are thrown upside down, they are forced to negotiate and come to terms with their new circumstances with very little real support from the adults in their lives.Thrown into the puzzle is Ishita – a young woman who has been kicked out of the family she married into because she cannot bear children. Desperate for a husband and child, Ishita will do anything to achieve this. The novel – as it travels through the lives of its characters becomes murkier and also offers a brutal critique of the Indian judicial system that often left me feeling completely hopeless at the forces that come into play and almost whimsically decide the fate of two very innocent children.
What stands out particularly in this novel is Raman’s anguish and anger at the betrayal he experiences at the hands of his worldly wife. Kapur presents him to us with empathy and meticulous attention to detail.Her attention to male characters comes out of her desire to be as balanced as possible in her writing. It is a notable trait of all her work that despite their astute social and political commentary, Kapur avoids making moral judgments about what she is writing about.
Kapur’s writing makes you ponder on certain questions: What does it mean to be a mother? Is a mother a bad mother if she chooses to seek her own happiness? Can a mother be replaced by a mother figure? Is a mother entitled to her children’s love if she is physically separate from them? Though divorce is not uncommon in Asian society today, but in an Indian setting, seems more complicated by the roles of the extended family members- the in-laws with bitter recriminations, the doting grandparents who are denied their weekly feeding sessions, the cousins who seem to be perfectly happy, the lawyer-relative who is caught between legalities and emotional outbursts…..everyone has an opinion. All the adults seem to have forgotten about the child’s inner turmoil; and to me that was exactly what Kapur is trying to convey.
Kapur through her novel opens forth a panorama of the society’s attitudes towards several issues: infertility is to cast out a wife if she is barren. The fixation with warranting a lady is married and settled, as a yardstick to measure her happiness which filters down to parental compulsion and feeling of low self-esteem. This recurring theme -of what will people say, what will people think is an inherent feature of Asian societies everywhere.
Custody is a novel filled with layers of social and personal commentary that never seeks to judge people’s choices but to illuminate how social values, personal character traits and the legal system can all influence people’s lives in certain ways.