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Nalini Singh’s daughter Ratna writes novel about mother-daughter troubled relationship

She does not deny when told that the characters have career trajectories strikingly similar to their counterparts in real life.

ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 9th Aug 2014

Ratna Vira with her novel Daughter by Court Order | PHOTO: Sanjay Vishwakarma

atna Vira, the first-time author of the new novel Daughter by Court Order, is clear about who she is not. "I am not Fatima Bhutto," she says, when asked why she did not write a memoir like the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto, brother of former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. Fatima Bhutto's memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword described the turbulent relationships that characterised the Bhutto household, especially the one between Benazir and Murtaza.

Vira is also clear about who she is. "I am sorted out and genuine," she announces, in a voice eager to assert itself. "Down to earth," she adds.

She insists that her novel is a work of fiction. But she does not deny when told that the characters have career trajectories strikingly similar to their counterparts in real life.

For example, just like her famous mother, Nalini Singh, the mother's character in her novel, Kamini, is a journalist who marries the son of an established politician. Kamini is shown as a shrew, an abusive, delusional personality who manipulates others for her success.

In real life, Nalini Singh married S.P.N. Singh, the son of C.P.N. Singh, former Governor of UP. In the novel, Eshwar Dhari, his counterpart is shown as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Whereas Singh served as the vice chancellor of Patna University, in the novel Dhari holds the same position at Ranchi University.

Vira too is similar to the protagonist, Aranya. She went to St Stephens to study English literature. Aranya goes to Queen's College, described as the "best" college in India to study the same subject. Both pursue higher studies in England and return home to take up a career in the corporate world. 

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The novel has a simple premise: a daughter fights her mother for her share in the family inheritance, which she has been unlawfully denied. It is also about her complicated relationships with her mother and uncle, Kamini and Yudi.

Just like Aranya, Vira shares a difficult relationship with her mother, a fact she readily admits. "A mother-daughter relationship can have undercurrents that can be corroding," she says, sipping her juice in a coffee shop in Khan Market. She has to go to an event later in the day to celebrate the book's success. "It is a bestseller," she says, with evident pride.

Aranya also has an uncle, Yudi Mama, Kamini's brother who has an illustrious career and can do no wrong. In real life, Nalini Singh's brother is well-known BJP politician and journalist Arun Shourie. Yudi too goes to Queen's College to study like Aranya. Arun Shourie went to St Stephens. In the novel, Yudi is shown to be less than what his public image is: vain and duplicitous.

"Hypocrisy" for Vira is the defining trait of the upper echelons of society. "We should take our icons a little less seriously," she says. She says things like these every once in a while, though careful not to commit herself, but the effect it has is that of blurring real life and fiction.

The novel has a simple premise: a daughter fights her mother for her share in the family inheritance, which she has been unlawfully denied. It is also about her complicated relationships with her mother and uncle, Kamini and Yudi.

Asked if she has received any feedback from her illustrious relatives, she says: "Why don't you ask them?"

But she adds that her readers love it, as do her friends and children. Walking down the stairs while leaving, she tells an acquaintance at the bookshop that her book has gone into reprint and receives the congratulations gracefully. The shop attendant informs her that they have ordered a fresh stock.

A little earlier, Vira emphasised that at its core, the protagonist's fight is about establishing her own identity. If in that process, she seeks to escape the "shadows" of her famous relatives, she may well be on her way.

 
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