Manju Kapur - Difficult Daughters

Difficult Daughters: A Novel - Manju Kapur

I’m posting this edition with a brown cover, conveniently ignoring that what I actually read was a flowery pink atrocity. I would have never picked it up myself but I actually reserved it at the library because I liked the title. The pink cover with flowers is the new edition by nons other than Faber, recently responsible for the sacrilegious cover of the anniversary edition of The Bell Jar ( 

If you have read other books about the struggle of Indian women and you’re not deeply interested in the subject, you can probably skip this one. Although, if you haven’t, this would be a good choice for a start. 

It mostly concerns itself with peculiar family dynamics, little wars, tiny power struggles – pretty much anything that’s left to women who don’t have any other outlet through which they could express themselves or gain a sense of accomplishment. 

To spice things up Manju Kapur included the political background (the story takes place before and around Partition) and even tries to create some parallels between the micro and macrocosm. While I really appreciate the effort, I can’t say those bits were woven in seamlessly. They did often feel like newspaper cuttings pasted in. 

The book tells the story of Virmati and is partly narrated by her daughter who is trying to learn more about her mother. Therefore there is a lot of fore-shadowing and we pretty much know where the story is going and how it is going to end. I can’t help but feel it would’ve been a more engaging read if we didn’t know Virmati’s fate from the get go.

As it is revealed at the very beginning, I can also tell you that young Virmati ends up marrying the Professor and becoming his second wife. This antagonizes her own family, as well as the first wife obviously. Initially, I empathised with the Professor – here is a man who went to study in Oxford, came back and had to marry an illiterate woman the family had chosen for him. He had already been infected with the Western balderdash or romantic love and partnership, so who could blame him for falling hard and deep for a young and bright Virmati. But soon it becomes apparent that the Professor is a weak man, who prefers to have a cake and eat it too, and also it is not really a partner he is looking for. True to his nickname, he is actually looking for a student. Someone who would listen and learn, someone he could mould according to his vision but someone who would never exercise their independent reasoning skills. In the end it was maybe his first wife who ended being the smarter one by refusing to learn to read or care for anything he tried to teach her, she stood her ground and stuck to what she thought was important, be it cooking and astrology.