In her debut novel The Purple Line, Priyamvada N. Purushotham explores the lives of six women through a gynaecologist, who is the central character
Every woman has experienced it at some point in her life — endless waiting at the crowded gynaecologist’s office, surrounded by women of all ages. Priyamvada N. Purushotham turned that experience into the starting point for The Purple Line, her recently released debut novel.
“Over years of waiting for hours, I’d been observing the different women around me — the burqa-clad woman, the Marwari woman with her mother-in-law…,” she says. “Being a writer at heart, I’d wonder what their homes were like, what their mothers were like, and it remained at the back of my mind.”
When the Chennai-born ad copywriter and theatre personality (she performed with Magic Lantern and taught theatre at Alliance Francaise) finally sat down to write that book she’d always wanted to, the characters just fell into place. The result is The Purple Line, which tells the stories of six different women whose lives intersect in the office of Mrinalini, their caring and open-minded gynaecologist.
In the central character of Mrinalini, Priyamvada says she set out to create the “ideal gynaecologist”. “A gynaecologist touches the most intimate part of us all, but remains very distant and matter-of-fact for most part,” she says.
“I thought, ‘what would it be like to have a gynaecologist who is non-judgmental and willing to get involved in her patients’ lives’? Every woman has a big story to tell; I think even more than a psychologist, a gynaecologist like that would hear some incredible stories, and could really make a difference.”
Through Mrinalini’s character, the author also touches upon women’s issues that are important to her, whether it’s female foeticide or the pressure on a woman to have children. “I’ve always been very fired up about gender equality,” she says. “In Mrinalini, I found the voice to express my beliefs.”
The book explores the lives of Mrinalini’s six patients as they go through those “all-encompassing experiences” of pregnancy or abortion or miscarriage, a process that Priyamvada says was rewarding but deeply exhausting. “It was emotionally draining,” she says, “Because of my theatre experience, I’d put myself in the skin of each character as though I was about to step onto stage.”
She adds with a laugh, “That’s why I’ve decided the next book is going to be about just one man!”
The Purple Line is set in Madras in the 1980s, a natural choice for the author who sees the city as her anchor. “I have a very deep relationship with Chennai,” says Priyamvada, now based in Boston. “My father was in the railways and we were constantly moving — we moved 13 times while I was growing up — but I’ve always come back to Chennai. If I’d lived here all my life, I’d have taken the city more for granted.”