Of past loves and confused young relationships

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Sangeeta Mall, a businesswoman-turned novelist with a degree from IIM-Bangalore, has mined her own experience of nostalgia to come up with a story that “is full of fun and confused young relationships”.

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Her recently-launched novel “Cloud Nine Minus One” is about reconciling “friendships of the past with the present”.

“I always wanted to write about mixed-up relationships both in the present and the past. I realised that if I had to become a writer, it had to be a full-time vocation,” Mall, who is following author Chetan Bhagat’s footsteps to write “about contemporary lifestyle angst”, told IANS.

Mall, in her thirties, gave up her “thriving business and left her family behind” to study creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh “alone, a couple of years ago”.

The protagonist in the book is Shruti Narayan, a woman busy looking after her writer’s colony and hoping for a holiday in Spain with her husband and children. One day she finds an unwanted email in her inbox. It is an invitation for a reunion at her college in Bangalore.

It takes a second for her to delete the mail. After all, why would she want to leave her life in Philadelphia to visit the past that she has left behind, to go back to Priya, the best friend she deserted, and to Jaggu, the old flame she once rejected.

“But Shruti’s husband finds out about the reunion; and the family finds itself at the gates of Shruti’s college. Desperate to ensure that her family does not learn about her past escapades, Shruti is caught between guilty emotions and desires,” Mall says, narrating the plot of her story.

“I have tried to probe past relationships – old love affairs and friendships – and how you feel about them several years later and whether there is ambiguity in the relationship. How would you stay in touch with a former girlfriend who is wild and how would she fit in your current conformist lifestyle? Can the husband accept the ex-boyfriend and become friends? These are some of the questions I have tried to raise in my book.”

The book, says the writer, is based on the understanding that “you and the person you knew 20 years ago are the same individuals and that relationships endure.

“People don’t change, only circumstances change. You can recognise your friends anywhere even after several years. The best way to accept the past is to be yourself.”

Mall said past relationships do not depend upon “whether you are a big shot”.

“It is more like you have left off somewhere and added on things like marriage and a new environment. They are like clothes. Indian society is slowly opening up to accept different kinds of relationships – gay relationships, straight relationships, complex loves and ties from the past.”

The writer is currently working an a collection of short stories “about relationships between friends, between human beings and the environment and society and even between women.

“I have written 60 percent of the book,” she said.

“Cloud Nine Minus One” has been published by HarperCollins-India.