QUEEN’S ROAD: Set in the serene valleys of Srinagar, Bhaavna Arora’s novel Mistress of Honour, released in the city recently, is an exploration of the many personal battles a family serving the military faces.
In the heart of the story, which is inspired by the author’s childhood experiences, are Major Potnif and his wife Pansy. Potnif is forced to choose between his family and joining a training programme to fight the LTTE. The field comes with its share of sacrifices, and he thus battles the birth of his second child saying it would curtail his freedom.
Mistress of Honour explores Potnif’s relationship with his wife and daughter. And subsequently, the relationships forged by his daughter Rihana with men and the Army. When she gives birth out of wedlock, Rihana handles the situation with confidence and with the support of her parents. “She is projected as a strong, independent girl. We need to teach girls to rescue themselves on their own rather than waiting for a Prince Charming to do it,” Bhaavna said.
Bhaavna is concerned about the lack of strong representation of women in mainstream media, literature and the political space. This is not the first time she has given voice to strong women characters. Her first book, The Deliberate Sinner, is about a woman caught in a dilemma over leaving her husband who is unable to meet her sexual needs.
Bhaavna, who holds a double MBA and PhD from Pittsford University, spoke at length with City Express about the role of women in society, the perception of their issues and motherhood. Excerpts:
Is the book an attempt to demystify the armed forces?
The concept of the Army in the general population’s mind is exaggerated. I wanted to provide an authentic read. Mistress of Honour is entertaining yet credible. When I was a young girl, my father was posted in Srinagar during the Kargil War. I often saw dead bodies of soldiers being brought to the base hospital and many injured soldiers who wanted to go back to the war. I was fortunate to witness such brave soldiers and pledged to myself that I would write a tale about these men in uniform that would take the average Indian from a level of awareness to appreciation towards them.
I’ve tried to inspire school- and college-going students to join the armed forces through Mistress of Honour. When they come back to me saying they would love to join the Army, I feel my duty towards my nation is performed.
Can you speak a bit about your father’s experience in Operation Blue Star and how it influenced the book?
My father was part of Operation Blue Star but it was never discussed in our family. I got my information from some of his seniors with whom I share strong bonds as the Army is like an extended family. The information was provided off the record and I have not named the officers. What you read in Mistress of Honour is true to every word. Even the love stories are real.
What about a woman having a child out of wedlock in Indian society?
If she wants to, what can stop her? Nothing should. Motherhood is the biggest blessing a woman can experience. It will always be pure. There is one fitting example here — Neena Gupta. Clearly, it has been difficult for Indian women to take that call whereas Hollywood is filled with love children like those born to Mel B, Caroline Lindqvist, Bebe Buell, Yvonne Kelly and so many more.
Which character in Mistress of Honour do you relate to most?
I relate most to Rihana as she is the protagonist of all my books. She is a strong, independent girl. I think we have given enough of characters like Cinderella and Rapunzel to our young girls. Sometimes, I have put myself in Rihana’s shoes and wondered what I would have done if I was in her situation. She finds her answers through me.
What do you say about the representation of women in mainstream media and literature?
Women lack representation in major change-making fields, be it politics, media or literature. But the most challenging roles they play are being a mother and being a good citizen. The choice they often have to make between being a full-time mother and a part-time professional is quite difficult. Some of them balance it really well but it is a tough call.
What were the challenges in writing about love and sexuality for the first time?
Love is the most natural attribute man is born with, lust only makes it profane. I was very comfortable writing about both. They came naturally to me but I did face resentment from my mother. That I overcame with discussion, not argument. I convinced her through my grandmother, who felt that in my first book I had written the universal truth. The concept of a woman’s sexual satisfaction is paramount in my first book. It speaks of how society perceives infidelity differently for men and women.
Mistress of Honour by Bhaavna Arora is available on Flipkart and Amazon for Rs 167 and Rs 139 respectively