Gender violence and politics make a combustible combination.
This is the story of how a woman’s humiliation changes her life taking her from ignominy to the highest glory but not without extracting a pound of flesh. Shruti Ranjan, a journalist pays for her husband's sincerity at work by getting brutally raped by a local goon. The doors of justice don't open for her and, to add to her trouble, she is ostracised by her relatives.
But Shruti finds an unlikely helping hand in Sharad Malviya, an astute politician who gets her to contest the Lok Sabha elections on his party ticket. Shruti’s life goes on a never-imagined curve with Sharad standing by her throughout; even helping nail her rapist Salim Yadav by getting his mother to testify about Salim's lifelong brutalities. Shruti wins the election and Sharad becomes the Home Minister. With a powerful companion by her side, Shruti’s political star rises; she even becomes chief minister of Bihar.
On the other hand, Shruti’s relationship with her husband (an IAS officer) breaks down irretrievably. She is burdened by the guilt of seeing her supportive husband break down under personal and professional pressures stemming from her rape and political ascent. However, there is little she can do about it; as she is battling increasing professional demands and snide remarks about her ‘relationship’ with Malviya.
Pegged as a story that seeks to give voice to gender crimes as well as absence of an able-bodied leadership in the country, The Edge of Desire leans heavily towards the latter. Sinha's engagement with political issues is clear through various instances depicted as part of Shruti and Malviya's political careers. The backdrop of Mahabharata forms a subtext to the narrative. Luckily Sinha refrains from painting the relationship between Malviya and his protégé in a clichéd romantic format; the many layers to the Krishna-Draupadi relationship that he accords to them remain unexplored.
However, there seem to be too many issues crammed into one plot. In his enthusiasm about and deep knowledge of political affairs, Sinha seems to have gone overboard by cramming everything from Naxal movements to the Kashmir question to internal problems in political hierarchies to increasingly common occurrences such as abductions and copter crashes into one story. A little pruning would have helped. Also, the insertion of Shruti’s love interest Abhay or Rohit's second wife Shamlee, seem unnecessary especially because these characters do not have much of a role in the protagonist's life except for adding to her personal trauma.
Still The Edge of Desire is worth at least one read to understand the quirks of fate, the machinations of politics and what a combustible combination the two can make.
The Edge of Desire; Tuhin A. Sinha, Hachette, Rs. 150.