Manual For A Decent Life by Kavita A. Jindal

Waheeda is an independent, middle-class, Muslim woman living in Delhi with her young daughter. She is an academic and her husband is a painter, living in the countryside, ostensibly but not entirely for his art. Though her situation with her husband isn’t ideal, mostly her life is simple, free from scrutiny, untouched by the politics of her step-father’s world.

Her step-father is the head of a small political party in Uttar Pradesh, the Nulkazim Peace Forum. 

Until the untimely death of her step-brothers, both killed in a train accident that looks anything but accidental, Waheeda has always steered clear of what she considers the mess of Indian politics. But her brothers’ deaths change everything.

Suddenly, she is all the family has left and her desire to enhance the lives of local girls, to get them and keep them in education, propels her into the political sphere. No longer can she lead a life free of scrutiny. None of her choices must be questionable. Her marriage, her appearance, everything is now open to judgement.

In the middle of all this change she meets Monish, the son of a business tycoon. A one time playboy, a Hindu whose family money is not entirely clean, Monish and Waheeda would seem opposites and yet, of course, they find themselves inextricably drawn to each other and into a painful alternative life of subterfuge that threatens to destroy both of their lives.

I can’t say where the book goes because that would spoil what was, for me, a surprising and painful ending. Without saying more, the novel is a thorough exploration of middle-class society life – of how business and politics are conducted, of how good intentions often run foul of old allegiances, promises, and blackmail. 

This is a love story with a very dark heart.

I was particularly fond of, and impressed by, the wider set of characters each playing their parts in the overarching narrative. Waheeda’s friends and family feel very real. We are forced to contemplate the extent to which we are all prepared to risk not only our careers and social standing, but our family and friends simply to fulfil desire.

Winner of The Brighthorse Prize for the novel, I’m sure Kavita A. Jindal will go on to write many more novels that shine a new light into modern, middle-class, Indian life. I look forward to reading them.

Next, I’ll be reviewing The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.