I stumbled across this book at a bookstore in the airport, and I was intrigued. The book is written by someone who is respect and admire, Sudha Murthy. The book hooks you from the first page, with all the framework and background of the central characters. The writing style is simple and uncomplicated.
The story is based on Shrimathi and Shrikanth,who are from warring neighbor families, and go to the same school. One of the most beautiful things is the parallel that she draws between the bakula flower and the lead character Shrimathi, which explains the title– both are simple, not extraordinarily beautiful but has a lingering fragrance. They are both brilliant, and are often pitted against each other and teased by friends in the war on whether men or women are more intelligent. But as they grow up, their relationship blossoms in to one of friendship and love. They write letters when Shrikanth goes to college, and one of the key facts that stands out in the first half of the book is that Shrimathi had a real passion for Indian history and she is extremely bright. Once they get married, they move to Bombay, and while Shrikanth is working away in building a career, Shrimathi is content in supporting him and putting her ambitions on the back burner. She is willing to take on a job that is not worth her qualifications to send money to his mother, she moves to US with him when his career demands it. But as he progresses, he moves further and further away from who he was, from being a compassionate and caring husband who values his wife’s intelligence, he moves to a self-centered, overly ambitious man who does not notice when his wife is ill and hospitalized. When Shrimathi notices a vacuum in her life, she wants children, but he doesn’t want one. Finally, Shrimathi reaches a breaking point, and finally realizes that she is not living with the man she married and decides to move to US to pursue her PhD.
One of the most poignant parts of the book is when Shrimathi leaves, Shrikanth realizes how he ignores her, how he does not value the sacrifices she made, and how he treated her as just a secretary or arm-accessory. But he also recognizes that he might is not willing to change, so he cannot stop her from leaving.
Another interesting point is there is a hidden issue between Shrikanth and Shrimathi which manifested at the end. She was first in school when they were in the 12th grade exam, while Shrikanth came second. He was ashamed about it, but was glad she did not gloat. But I think he never forgot that, years later when a friend sent a letter to Shrikanth that Shrimathi was smarter than all of them for following her passion, he chose to not respond to the letter. When Shrimathi tries to talk to him about her frustrations, he says that she is the smarter one, who would know whats best for her. This just brought out an insecurity that was a part of his personality for all the years of their relationship.
I loved the book (I am sure anyone who reads this post can tell!) because I can almost feel the pain that Shrimathi has been through. Sudha Murthy had shown the pressure of current work styles and the impact it has on relationships and the transition of personalities who live under the pressure. It also showcases the emotional struggle for a woman to choose between her ambitions and marriage.