Riva is at that cross-roads of life again 15 years back, choosing between Aman and Ben. Meeting up with Aman now brought the incredible possibility of a fantastic flight from the dull grind that her married life had become. Ben stood for Riva’s more practical side, where she played important roles of wife, daughter, sister, friend. Jaishree Misra writes boldly of the man-woman relationship in her novel “Secrets and Sins.” It is a daring triangle that she serves up of husband, wife and past lover. The novel escapes being shoddy and trite as the emotions of the protagonists are aesthetically handled, leaving out sexual overtones.
In spite of the bold title “Secrets and Sins,” there is more of focus on the emotional bond of marriage than the physical side of it. Jaishree also keeps before us the marriages of Kaaya, Susan, Aman and Riva to help us compare and contrast the types of marriages and the way they function. Her characterization is excellent as we are privy to what each character thinks and that helps build up our empathy. Yet the story is clichéd; an old wine in a new bottle but it’s been handled innovatively. The little twist she gives to culture where westernized Susan is more conservative than traditionally brought up Riva, brings home the point that attitude moulds personality. Jaishree has also shed light on what happens when man is less successful than woman and how patriarchal attitudes rear up their ugly head. Marriage is definitely the important focus of the story but relationships leave a lasting impression on our mind.
Riva was one of the comfortable second-generation kids living in the U.K who slipped in and out of their two worlds, taking what they wanted from both. It was in 1994 that Aman and Riva had met at the university in Leeds. She was a rabble riser, pamphlets hurler, eloquent platform speaker, who enlisted the rookie, newly joined Aman in her cause. A brief attraction had flared up between them, and then Riva had gone back to her witty, intellectual boy friend Ben. Riva confides in her close friend Susan that they were far apart culturally but she mistook her fascination over him being Indian, for love. Riva and Ben had much more things in common than Aman.Yet something had kept that moving memory alive between them in the distance spanning continents and time spanning 15 years.
Aman is a famous film star now. Riva is an acclaimed, award winning writer. She was quite accustomed to watching some of Aman’s film’s twice, even three times over and was always surprised that the yearning for him hadn’t gone away. Riva thought that Aman looked quite gorgeous up there on the movie screen. Ben and Riva’s marriage is passing through a rocky patch with Ben having his own dragons to slay. He is struggling to make his mark in the writing field, having given up his job to do so. Love in their marriage has dried up. His male ego has reared its ugly head when Riva is feted and feasted. Riva discloses to Susan that he is just a bit grumpy as she is getting recognition when his own career has sort of ground to a halt.
Ben tortures himself wondering, how could Riva not fail to notice the difference between his failure and Aman Khan’s success? Ben knew that something obscure about Aman Khan had captured Riva’s heart all those years ago, never allowing her to forget him. He also knew that if he could muster up some energy he would bring the sparkle back into their marriage. The attraction between Aman and Riva flares up when they are thrown together at the Cannes film festival. Riva cannot stop herself from falling in love with Aman again. The only way we can rationalize Riva’s little indiscretion with Aman is through Susan, who feels that Riva had never been as conservative in her views about marriage as she herself was. It is heartening the way Jaishree has brought to life the tenuous bond that friends share. This novel exhibits one of the most beautiful friendships that two women can possess; between Riva and Susan; one which nourishes and props up each other.
Riva wouldn’t have slept with Aman if she hadn’t felt she was in love with him. Yet adultery was so wrong, it was wrong even to think of it as love. Riva has to intellectualize her reaction and work out that it was the idea of her lost Indian identity she had felt attracted to, rather than Aman himself. Aman rationalizes that all long-term relationships go through bad phases and most of them succeed in the end. Ben had recognized that he had allowed his own frustrations to grow into jealousy, not just of Riva’s writing career, but the life she was developing quite independently of him. This sends him back to his home to be there to receive Riva when she returns from Cannes. Susan, her friend, is her crutch; her boat in her sea of chaos, while it was with Ben that she was home, where she belonged. When she gets back to Ben and his love, it was as if Cannes and Aman had been no more than a bad dream.
“Secrets and Sins” is one of the most satisfying books that I have ever read, as it probed deep into the psyche of a woman, who is entangled in the web of adultery. The strength of a woman too came through, who is capable of sifting through the stone and the diamond and recognize it for it is. Riva is the quintessential evolved woman, who sees beyond physical attraction and bonds with her heart, with the person she is deeply in love with; Ben. It is a love story that transcends cultures and constricted traditions.