Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja

The depth of this long-short story took my breath away for all the right reasons.

KumKum Malhotra, a treat for lovers of women fiction, tells the story of a woman who lives a quiet life in the small town of Nizamudin, New Delhi with her husband and her children. Her world and her mind are turned upside down, when an unfortunate event takes place right before a family dinner, unlocking the doors to a journey into the deepest layer of the self.

The lyrical style of writing, brought together with rich vocabulary and the ability to look in depth into the inner-self make this book a must-read in contemporary literature. The reader is taken down the rabbit hole and it just kept becoming darker and darker with each passing turn as the layers of the identity of the main character are stripped away. The secondary characters give a different contribution to the construction of the plot coming together as pieces of a puzzle to create a bigger picture in the end. It gives depth to the novel and to its characters, making it easier to relate and sympathize with them.

Preti Taneja is able to match the emotions, the fast-paced events and the slow moments with the style of writing and the vocabulary creating an intense and suspenseful atmosphere throughout the story. The ending comes unexpected, leaving the reader wanting to know more, which the author leaves open for interpretation. It leaves a lasting impression on the possible fate of the characters and on the modern issues captured in the novel. The author approaches a number of themes that are still existent in contemporary India: the role of women and what they have to face in their daily lives, the truth about marriage and family life, the complexity of human relations and the clash between the tradition and modernism. In the centre of the story, the reader finds the contrast between liberal and conservative societies and how ‘freedom’ gains different meanings depending on the cultural background. Anya, the tenant that stays in their home for a short time, represents the modern way of thinking: the lack of taboos, free from the boundaries of tradition and the expectations of a community. KumKum is stunned when Anya speaks freely about sex, to which she receives the response: ‘Hey, liven up, Sisterji,’ says Anya with a smile and a shrug. ‘It’s 1993.’. It shows the two different realities like the sides of a coin and the opposition between conservative mentality and liberal openness. Moreover, there is the ability to accept and more about other cultures. Anya shows interest in the culture of the community and takes initiative to participate in common day-to-day tasks, while KomKom and her family create their own opinion based on her behaviour and her conversations. The question that is raised is if western culture is freer than a conservative culture, and if so, what does being free entitle.

This long-short story has the potential to become a longer literary work, however the narrative shouldn’t have the same lasting impact on the reader nor it wouldn’t be just as intense due to its consistency and intensity of events and writing style.
It’s a read that deserves every recommendation.

Preti Taneja is unique in her style and her voice, and I will definitely be on the lookout for her future works.

5 Stars

This review was published on Ofi Press Magazine 54 

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