Reading good and engrossing fiction often makes you ‘happy as a clam in high water‘ and you want to be with the book for a few more days after the last page has been read. This happened when I read ‘Sunlit Hearts’.

One absolutely delightful thing about the way Meenu Mehrotra writes is her ability to pick up ordinary sounding words and bring them together to present the most dizzying cocktail you may ever have had. The images created by her words are ‘more potent than Viagra‘ and they can ‘unstitch’ anyone! Well, I am not yet talking about the protagonist ‘opening up her seams’ or murmuring about her lover’s ‘cinnamon eyes being liquid’… but you encounter little ambushing platoons of words lurking about in the ‘hush of the night spreading around me like a web‘ and the ‘darkness outside wrapping the world like a lover’s ring‘. The author spells intrigue in her own special way and does it intelligently and responsibly. The book is all about the intrigue that envelops human emotions all the time. Intrigue that is almost like the ‘winter chill that sieves through the window and caresses’ and you actually close the book and say to yourself: ‘Doesn’t sound so much like mere fiction. This is so true.’

Before I take on the people in the book and what they are up to, let me say that the two hundred and thirty-eight pages simply flew by. The book moves fast without fussing over inanities and moves smoothly, without jerks. No, there aren’t any safes being broken, or cars being stolen, and there are no spies running around catching other capable ones… the book is about three people, some uncertainties, some realisations, resolves, hard decisions, and harmony… well, the characters are at least aiming to reach the plateau of harmony! The writer brings all of this entirely diverse clan together in a format that I loved from the start. You get to watch the way different characters perceive and look at what is happening, and it gets more interesting when the same incident is recounted thorough the words of different people! So you have Medha, Rishi, and Nikhil come to you separately to tell you what they think is right or wrong with whatever it is that they are doing or thinking of doing. Thus the chapters or sections are never going on and on and on with the reader getting desperate to shuffle a few extra pages in a haste to move ahead. The book moves faster than a reader’s impatience.

Before I get to the next part of this review, let me just list for a few more intricately carved phrases that the author has given us:

‘wait to relish the greens’
‘felt a pebble inside me getting heavier and becoming a rock’
‘as excited and nervous as a pregnant woman about to deliver’
‘kingdom of white clouds rising magnificently in the sky’
‘winds whipped at the curtains and the room resounded with the crash of the waves outside’
‘felt sensation rise like wild fire between my legs and overpower me’

These phrases tell us how the author has effectively dealt with a wide spectrum of emotions and situations… and this is indeed what makes any book worth reading.

'Sunlit Hearts' written by Meenu Mehrotra

‘Sunlit Hearts’ written by Meenu Mehrotra

When I began reading the book, I got a feeling that the pages would go on and take me right into the intricacies and the art of writing… well, the narrative suddenly swerved and gravitated right into the bubbling cauldron of broth that we call love, marriage, and affairs! Fascinating stuff there, no doubt, but my mind still expectedly went on searching for little clues and hints that the author may have left for those who want to learn the art of writing. And what I found was quite exhilarating!

Just see the ease with which the writer shares her secrets… and the spot where she chooses to remain silent and let everyone find his or her direction.

Medha settled down. “Writing is a very lonely profession. You are alone when you are creating…”
“I can imagine but it must be so fulfilling to create characters.”
“Yeah! When they come alive and you get into the mind of each character and explore them.”
Rajan asked, “How do you do it?”
The waiter arrived with the drinks and snacks. I passed on the drinks and we raised our glasses and cheered.

Expectedly, the author does tell us that the writing process involves making ‘notes about them – their physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, the way they talk, words they use, their fears, doubts, insecurities… although each writer has his or her own way of working.’ And what does the author tell us about the relevance of muse? Well, she has the answer, but I’m certainly not going to tell you anything about that in this review. All I’m going to tell you is that writing is ‘a journey of discovery’ and which most others cannot ‘completely comprehend.’ And importantly, the author reveals that ‘life shrinks and expands, in proportion to one’s courage and I’m glad I took the courage to write this book.’ Well, we too are glad you took the courage to write this book, Meenu…

It is time now to tell you why I chose a quote by Joseph Joubert as the title for this review. Two reasons, besides the fact that it has been used by the author too:

  1. These six words tell us more about what is there inside this book than any review anywhere.
  2. Untying lets the pain remain until you understand it and emerge a better person. No wonder the author writes: ‘Maybe that pain is my destiny. I need to go through it.

As one turns the pages, one realises that the novel has some really interesting insights into love and a caring attitude… for instance, while telling us about her parents, Medha tells us that ‘their love had been uncelebrated and private and rose from the recesses of the deepest layers when the need arose. But what they never realised was that as parents they needed to celebrate it in front of their children in order to awaken and restore their faith in love.’ Now isn’t that something that most of the Indian parents really need to open up to? It is nuggets like this that endeared me to what the pages went on about.

There is a pretty strong dose of a woman’s point of view that I was able to discern in the novel… particularly when Medha decides:

I just wanted to be myself now, without being a wife to someone. I had to take control of my life.

The message comes out straight, unambiguous, and strong. The protagonist explores the decisive power of women as it ought to be, but realises that not everyone may be as strong as her when she admits that: ‘I followed my heart, unafraid of where it will lead me, ready for the pain that would come as a result; not many can do that.

The one question that kept me interested was how the author would choose to deal with sex. Novels today have sex thrust into them and it sticks out like a sore phallus! Would the author be subtle, would she get into something unduly explosive, or would she be content to remain platonic throughout? Let us walk through this steamy scene from the book:

“I don’t tell my fantasies.” I whispered as I moved closer to him. “I prefer to play them out.”
He probably saw the raw desire on my face.
“I am game,” he said lustily.
His eyes had already made me drunk with desire. My eyes invited him as I entered the glass elevator.

Well, obviously the author realises that ‘sex was a life force that determined one’s perspective of a lot of things.’ However, sex – within a marriage or outside marriage – always has a social connect. The author doesn’t disappoint here because she doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable discussions:

“So the book takes a liberal view of infidelity. It talks about open marriage. I believe there is no such word as adultery or infidelity. Words are so powerful that they bracket us or judge us and overtake our lives completely.”
I swirled the scotch in the glass. “Good point. I feel that the monotony in a marriage can kill it, so why not try and save it if one can.”
Medha’s eyes shifted towards Rajan. “But then open marriage requires tremendous trust, strength, and honesty…”

In fact, the author doesn’t shuffle uncomfortable thoughts out-of-sight any time… she bravely confronts them and puts forth her point of view through her characters in the novel. This is one little facet that made me like the book.

Yes, I loved reading this novel… though it isn’t as if this is perfect or flawless. There are strange errors creeping up from unexpected corners, grammar flounders sometimes, editing appears sloppy here and there… for instance, one may disagree with a journalist wanting a ‘bite for our newspaper’ but you smile indulgently and move on.

By the time you reach the end of the novel, you know that the clouds of discord have left leaving behind sunlit hearts… but I wonder if the writer in Medha would survive this harmony! Only Meenu knows!!

The dedication says it all!

The dedication says it all!

Title: Sunlit Hearts
Author: Meenu Mehrotra
Publisher: Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-93-80828-78-7
Price in India: Rs 295/-
Pages: 238 


Arvind Passey
06 July 2012