BANGALORE: “Oh, men will be men, after all” – a phrase that boils the blood of every person who doesn’t share the misogynist belief that women are subservient to men.
The Deliberate Sinner by Bhaavna Arora is a brave attempt to talk about the sexuality and sexual needs of women, which are often kept under wraps even by members of the sex for fear of societal double standards. This, perhaps, is the most redeeming aspect of the book.
At 21, Rihana, a ‘dainty’, charming Punjabi beauty, is the epitome of the naïveté of the typical ‘good girl’. She turns heads, often without realising it, and when she does, she doesn’t know how to deal with the attention. Understandably, the only child of a marble mines tycoon based in Jaipur, she detests it when her local politician's mother calls her totta, especially in public.
When the book begins, after the epilogue, she has just returned after graduating in International Management from a college in Switzerland. She then takes a trip to Thailand, where she runs into her swimming partner Raj and his friends Ravi and Veer.
Back at Jaipur, Veer starts showering her with attention during their swimming sessions. He does a hundred laps and follows it up with a marriage proposal. And from there begins the roughest patch of her life.
Ahead of the wedding, Rihana and Raj fall in love and have a fling of sorts. She soon realises that she can’t be happy with Veer, and asks Raj if they could elope. He, however, backs out of the relationship as he doesn’t want to be blamed for breaking up the engagement of two of his closest friends.
Rihana struggles as her husband comes to her only to satisfy his sexual urges and fails to understand her needs, despite her telling him. She too wants to experience an orgasm each time. The book ends in a divorce, with Rihana on the way to realising her dream of being an entrepreneur in the field of design and fabrics.
The writing is too plain: it lacks description and leaves too little scope for the reader’s imagination. Imagery of any sort is almost absent. Particularly distressing is the character of Rihana’s mother, who takes Veer’s side in any fight that the couple has because she doesn’t want her daughter’s marriage to break up.
When Rihana finds out that he has a relationship with a college student, Ishika, she asks that she be brought home. Here, for the first time, Rihana’s mother feels betrayed because the girlfriend is ugly. “Out of all the girls in the world, you found this girl to sleep with. Just look at my daughter, and look at her.” And this upsets Rihana, who just a moment ago was ‘shocked’ to see the girl because ‘she was so ugly that Rihana was reminded of someone on whom a spell of staying ugly had been cast’. It’s only after this that she relents, with ‘Even if not by looks, Ishika was indeed the ugliest woman for Rihana as she had turned Rihana’s life into hell.’ It hits her later that her husband is responsible too.
The book, disappointingly, reinforces the stereotypes and values it wishes to break. The title too emphasises it, sending across the message that Rihana isn’t strong enough to exit her marriage by herself. Instead, she has to stage an ‘affair’ with a best friend’s help so that she can manipulate Veer to initiate the divorce.
The Deliberate Sinner is barely readable, not advisable to force it down your throat.