Book Review: A Beautiful Mistake

by Shabir Ahmad Mir

M.A,NET in English Language and Literature.
Book Reviewer and Critic
Gundipora, Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir,India

A novel although a fictional representation of life and its deeds and misdeeds, its follies and foibles, it is a mirror reflecting the society in which men live and work. A novelist is not a banal creature, but a rhapsodic writer who operates upon the wounds inflicted on a society by choosing characters who work as scissors. The choice of the characters and the art to employ them for varied survey is one of the main concerns of a novelist. A novelist never fears the outer circumstances. He is a cameraman always ready to reach every nook and corner of society to portray it unbiased. In the postcolonial world, the novel has become an obtuse object and a challenge for the reader. The narrative has become turgid and ambiguous. Mikhail Bakhtin,a Russian literary critic, popular for his 'The Dialogic Imagination' has spoofed the term, ‘Heteroglossia’ to describe the novel's organization of socially diverse and competing discourses. Bakhtin studies the novel as 'chronotope’, another term coined by him. He defines chronotope as the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature.

Maya Khandelwal's 'A Beautiful Mistake' is unmistakably a conflict between heart and head of the protagonist. The title of the novel is indeed very apt and suggestive. A signboard of a shop it is; at the very first glance, the readers get acquainted about the inner ambiance of the work. The novelist has almost put behind many novelists and dramatists whose titles were full of bathos like Noel Coward whose one of the dramas has a same baroque title as 'Bitter Sweet'. The ironical marriage of the antithesis sets the tone of the novel. A mistake takes place in the absence of mind, in other words the absence of mind gives birth to a mistake. The gaffe committed by King Lear of William Shakespeare when he banishes Cordelia because she couldn't succeed in flattering him. Mansi too like Cordelia, in the novel commits a beautiful mistake. She has deep love for her father but couldn't express it because she too ‘can’t heave (her) heart into (her) mouth.’

The realization of the same and the demarcation as a ‘mistake’ is the daily choir of the rational part of our being. Mansi fails to realize that the world is composed of swindlers and to be straight like Cordelia can prove pernicious. She logically knows that the ship she is voyaging on is made of a thin sheet of emotions which can be battered by any sharp object that the society abounds in. She embarks on this journey knowingly, willingly at the cost of finding no coast of conventional solace. Like an explorer, she doesn’t necessarily have to land on a prefixed spot, but she can go on for months and years as long as the supply of love doesn’t run out. This long wait like Hamlet's delay in murdering his father's murderer lands her in ‘to be or not to be’ situation. However Mansi fails to blend her emotions with her actions. She couldn't realize that the division of the two often debacles. What if she would have pondered over John Donne's unification of sensibility? She tries to become a Marloweian figure, Doctor Faustus; her mind goes vestigial until like Faustus restores her consciousness at the end. One is reminded of the scene in ‘Doctor Faustus’when:
The Devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
O, I'll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ. 

Therein lies however the “Beauty” of this very “Mistake” which can only be perceived by heart, by the emotional part of our being.

The marriage of the misfits is enough to hint the contents of the novel – which literally is the misfit of their marriages.

Mansi introduces herself as a young wife and a mother. She is shown before a precipice where she has either to turn back or to plunge herself directly into the deep gorge, “either be a dreamer or a mother.”

This tug of war between the two options, both of them being the inevitable parts of herself, she realizes that times aren’t going to be too easy for her. Her husband, for whom she fought such a war like a brave Hercules, was literally washing away into a “wrong number” dialed in a hurry and passion of teenage.

Next in her reminiscence we meet her as a collage-going teen who is really a  good  student and again a misfit for her own chosen company. She is a “good girl” and instead of fighting this badge, she goes to every extent to keep up the same. She doesn’t dress fashionably because her father feels uncomfortable if she goes out like “not-a-good-girl”.

A wrong number dialed in a sportive moment turns out not just to be the right one, but one that blocks all other calls on her line. The novelist has employed wisely the device of chance here. It can be seen that the role of the chance is central to the novel's swift movement like Desdemona’s Handkerchief in the play ‘Othello’ of William Shakespeare. The wrong number sets the plot of the novel in motion. It heightens the effect of the events leading to the climax. Aditya, just the other guy with whom the prank will be played, turns the tables on her game, catches her in her own snare. The way with which Aditya tackles her tricks makes a mark on Mansi’s heart so much so that she is anxious to call him again. Conflict of self-identity is at peak in the beginning and the closure of the novel. In the middle however, Mansi, not very unlike the Victorian heroines, finds and attaches her identity to Aditya. On him she wants to depend, not owing to any weakness in her will but purely out of love she has been cradling for him. In turn Aditya is trying to establish his own identity through business. They meet, they see each other, the kiss and push the relation to such a solemnity where marriage is the only nearest station. The family tension, her sister’s mistreatment and divorce, Neha’s brother’s suicide, the case of lover on the train play a good part they’ve been assigned.

Characters are widely divided into at least two groups: those forced by their parents to marry unwillingly, and those who choose to live or to die out of their choice. The first group, even as elderly Mansi’s parents fail to live, though they all the time are conscious of the misbehavior they are inflicting upon their mates, and are therefore objects of sympathy sometimes. They linger as shadows, and hunt for reasons to continue to survive, and when that reason is removed, they seize to follow the decency that the society expects notwithstanding the forced yoke that lays there tying down the partners. For instance, the death of Mansi’s son is enough to fragment her family. Men in the novel are treated as judges and torchbearers, which in fact is a dark reality. It’s not only the father of Mansi imposing such dictates on the family but to a large extent Aditya stands a culprit too, “Will you be able to appease out taste?”

This is not just a simple enquiry about the cooking of Mansi, it has a scope of a rhetorical question. This is the precursor of the events that are about to unfold after their happy marriage. What is to happen to such a marriage in which a possessive husband doesn’t even allow her wife to work, taking shield of love? To talk in Aditya’s language, “Will this man please her tastes as the young Aditya would?” Answers to these  will unfold themselves as we know the history behind this marriage. Women are targeted in the novel as creatures feigning a mock-coyness. This is not the coyness of Marvell's' mistress but the coyness of Richardson 'Pamela'- subsidiary, subdued and meek. This novel deals with the life of the lower middle class and has therefore no scope for rebels and heroic sparks. Female are drawn realistically and almost all, except the protagonist and her sister confirm to the same type. Women cannot choose, they have to accept their lot as it is. The male in turn are not tyrants and inside their hard skulls they know all along the unmistakable folly they are committing only because of the society. They make women ‘helpless’ and women in turn play harder to remain their ‘steady girls’.

The novel is a realistic one: no unexpected events, and to the amazement of curious reader, no unexpected encounters. The tale goes as normally as it can but has its own elements of surprise. Readers laugh, they hold their breaths; they cry; the magic of narration never seizes to draw a web of a colorful world.

The novel is written in a simple and lucid language and is often full of poetry in prose. Pithy sentences, sharp resolutions, satisfying endings draw it nearer to the diary-entry genre, though much fast forwarded one. From Adam and Eve’s tale to Goldsmith’s poetry, from love-over-telephone to Facebook and text messaging, the novel is a variegated mixture of romantic imagination and Facebook jargon which can be a great entertainment if some mistakes and typos are ignored. A variety of emotions viz. love, sympathy, physical passion and paternal fill the novel and make it a world in itself.

A Beautiful Mistake
Genre: Novel
Author: Maya Khandelwal
Published by: Partridge India
Year of Publication: 2013
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1482810189
Pp: 438, paperback
Price: ₹ 751.00
Reviewed by: Shabir Ahmad Mir

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