Suralakshmi Villa, titled after the eponymous heroine of this novel, is a remarkable witness to an inter-generational story that speaks to urban India. A drive around the older neighbourhoods of New Delhi or Kolkata would bring us in view of stately mansions constructed about three generations ago and now being crushed by bulldozers to be resurrected by commercial builders as small, smart apartments, stacked one on top of the other like ant hills. Likewise, Suralakshmi Villa has now to be rebuilt for a younger generation that chooses to live on inherited wealth rather than strive to create its own. Aruna Chakravarti, most innovatively, grants a ‘voice’ to the villa and creates an engrossing story of love and betrayal, marriage and motherhood, class exploitation as well as social service. As a renowned novelist and translator who is utterly familiar with the ethos of Bengal and also the changing values of the ‘probashi’ (Bengalis living outside Bengal), she astutely picks up the nuances of problematic cosmopolitan negotiations with the past. The brick and mortar of the home seems to have soaked in the drama of complex family relations and is eager to reveal secrets to those who have the ear to listen; almost compulsively it spills the story before being destroyed by the construction mafia. Unmuting the silences of micro-history, the novel progresses scene by mesmerizing scene.
July 2020, volume 44, No 7