Reviewer Ekta Garg: Ekta has actively written and edited since 2005 for publications like: The Portland Physician Scribe; the Portland Home Builders Association home show magazines; ABCDlady; and The Bollywood Ticket. With an MSJ in magazine publishing from Northwestern University Ekta also maintains The Write Edge- a professional blog for her writing. In addition to her writing and editing, Ekta maintains her position as a “domestic engineer”—housewife—and enjoys being a mother to two beautiful kids.
A budding writer decides to explore her romantic options when her married life no longer offers her the spark or desire she previously experienced. Traveling the path between the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon and the Middle Eastern city of Muscat, author Meenu Mehrotra’s second novel, Sunlit Hearts, follows the story of Medha, aspiring writer, discontent wife, and romantic adventurer. Unfortunately the mildly interesting telling of Medha’s story doesn’t do her journey justice.
The book opens as Medha meets Nikhil in college, and Medha falls unequivocally in love on the spot. Nikhil, however, sees her as a college buddy, and Medha experiences unrequited love to its most heart-wrenching depth. Nevertheless, she doesn’t hesitate to tell Nikhil how she feels about him just before they part ways at the end of college, and Nikhil is flattered by Medha’s honesty. Life then separates them.
Medha pursues an arranged marriage with Rishi, and for the most part they experience a successful relationship. They have one child, who they both adore, and when they lose their second child in birth it brings them closer together and strengthens their family unit. While Medha feels deeply the loss of the baby, Rishi helps bring emotional stability to her life again.
In the midst of life’s dramatic events, Medha discovers her passion for writing and pours herself into her efforts to become a published author. She begins to neglect Rishi somewhat in favor of her writing, but Rishi doesn’t protest too much. Things become unsettling, however, when Rishi receives a job opportunity in Muscat and plans to pursue it. Medha resents Rishi’s decision but makes the move with him for the sake of family, that ever-present edict ingrained in South Asian women everywhere.
Medha physically moves to Muscat, but her heart remains in India and only her writing offers respite. When she returns to New Delhi for a book launch, she runs into Nikhil and her past. With her resentment of life in Muscat growing and the now-added attraction of re-establishing contact with Nikhil, Medha finally decides she cannot continue living in Muscat. Despite her husband’s pleadings to reconsider, she moves with their son back to Gurgaon. With Nikhil’s home conveniently located a short distance away, it doesn’t take much time for Medha to pursue and capture the original object of her heart’s desire. By now Nikhil offers her an almost unquenchable reciprocation of the love that had smoldered through the years.
Author Meenu Mehrotra gives readers a few moments where married women might pause and consider their own situations in life. But these moments of clarity don’t come often enough. A gross overuse and misuse of question marks prove to distract readers from the plot, and Mehrotra’s incorrect usage of the verb “to lie” (as in, “to lie down”) will jar readers out of the pages completely for a few minutes.
Also, almost no consideration comes for two points key to South Asian culture: society’s intruding eye into the lives of each individual living in India, and the staunch upbringing Medha would have endured that taught that an Indian woman should and would sacrifice everything for her family’s (read: husband’s) happiness.
Medha does not harbor any regret at all about what an extramarital affair might do to her marriage, and no one—not even her husband, Rishi—bothers to ask her how she would feel if said husband would have done the same to her. Would she have adopted Rishi’s persistent nature, determining to love him and do what she could to win him back, even after she’d heard all the sordid details of the affair? Her selfish nature and contradictory approach to the entire relationship also make it difficult to cheer her on—when Nikhil complains of trouble with his own wife and daughter, Medha scolds him into considering how to make things better with them, but she refuses to take her own advice with Rishi.
All in all, Sunlit Hearts could at best be called a good attempt at delving into the heart of a woman who feels torn between the familiar and the exciting, and this reviewer doesn’t recommend it to readers.
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