This book came to me unrequested from Penguin Random House, and I put it on the back of my TBR list, intending to read it at some vague point in time when I had nothing on hand to read. After all the title is so cliché – The Poison of Love? All I could think of when I saw the book was that slogan that so many cabbies and auto-drivers put up on their vehicles – Love is slow poison. So yeah, when a book title reminds you of corny auto-drivers, it’s not a good sign.
Nevertheless it looked like a short and easy read, so I put up my feet one sweltering Sunday afternoon, and read this book from start to finish. And then I put it down and read it again. My mind was blown by just how powerful a punch this book packs.
When Tulsi first meets Madhav, she is irrevocably drawn to his chiselled good looks and charm. Although wary of his many dalliances and the string of broken hearts left in his wake, she is surprised by the intense desire that Madhav arouses in her. And before long, she forsakes her family, her prospective career, her fiancé—all for the love of this inscrutable man. But love can be like poison. And nothing can prepare Tulsi for the heartache and betrayal that lie ahead.
Years later, Tulsi escapes to the ancient city of Vrindavan, seeking redemption amidst the cries and prayers of its anguished widows. However, when her past catches up with her, old wounds resurface with dramatic consequences.
~ Synopsis from goodreads
On the surface, this book is a tale of a woman wronged, a woman scorned. But it is also a comparison of the Tulsi-Madhav love story, with the celebrated love story of Krishna and Radha.
Tulsi is a modern-day Radha madly in love with Madhav, and sacrifices everything for him – becoming almost a doormat.
I, who had graduated from IIT with record marks, became the handmaiden of Madhav. I washed his clothes with affection, and ironed them with devotion. I cooked his beloved food with reverence. The places where he stood and sat, I cleaned as if they were sacred. I blissfully surrendered to him and he accepted me with compassion.
However, unlike the (presumably blissful) saga of Krishna and Radha, Tulsi and Madhav’s love turns corrupt all too soon. Madhav is a modern-day Krishna with plenty of paramours in his life. Tulsi, his wife is unable to turn a blind eye to his affairs.
She makes a feeble attempt to leave him, but remains too madly in love with him to refuse his advances. Two children later and Tulsi is in a bad state. Then something happens, something brutal and shocking and violent that leaves Tulsi fleeing her married life to go live with the widows in Vrindavan and devote her life to the god Krishna.
This section of the book was the most stark and captivating. The way of life of these widows was so alien to me, I had a hard time believing that this was present-day India, and that widows were still being abandoned or forced to live such a life of penury and beggary.
Throughout the story, the role of ants play a recurring motif – eating dead things, cleaning up the messes of life. In the end too, ants provide a fitting gruesome end to a poisoned love story.
Highly recommend this short but very powerful story. The writing is vivid, and as you read the book, you can feel every emotion felt by Tulsi. This book is a work of translation – the original is in Malayalam, and Ministhy S. Nair who translated this book to English has done a fabulous job keeping the tone of the original intact.
Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration.
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.