on July 11, 2004
Before early 1998 special counters for women, senior citizens and the handicapped were in Indian train stations in addition to ladies coupes in most overnight trains with second-class reservation compartments. The premise of Anita Nair's LADIES COUPE is based on this historical practice of granting women a separate space away from the eyes of strange men in the hustle and bustle of train travel throughout India, enabling women to talk about their marraiges away from the ears of their husbands.
When we first meet Akhila she is embarking on an extended train journey for reasons unknown. Her status in Indian society is precarious; she is a 45-year-old unmarried working. Akhila's traveling companions in her ladies coupe are immediately curious of her situation, but as time progresses and she reveals her life story the other women are not necessarily of the opinion that her life would be complete with a husband.
As their train rambles through the Indian countryside each woman tells her own story of childhood and marriage including grime circumstances highlighting lost liberties and unfilled love. There is not an overall happy story in the bunch. It is apparent that the status of contemporary Indian women is the focus of this book and of general concern to Anita Nair. What is most interesting is that men are not simply the enemy; rather, the portrayal of Akhila's younger sister as being selfish and vindictive illustrates how women can also deter the fulfillment of other women.
LADIES COUPE provides an intriguing glimpse into a small group of contemporary Indian women of different generations. This book is a good addition to the already growing selection of Indian literature. Also recommended is Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop and Samina Ali's Madras on Rainy Days.
on February 24, 2006
This is an excellent book. It has an interesting narrative: in six stories different women are presented. Akhila's story, a 45-year old woman, who is seeking contentment in life, is the thread through the book and indeed we read it to the end curious to find out if she will be able to make the necessary decisions. This is a great book in which to find the common denominator in the universe of women's experiences. We are invited to consider if cultural, regional differences are indeed not just outward, cosmetic as it were, differences. And in the process discover that whether the woman is named Akhila, in India, Nicole in France, Mary Ann in the US or Mercedes in Mexico their stories can and often are very similar. This is a book filled with strong women, who took the reins of their lives in their hands and conquered. Sometimes it was just some small territory but enough to give each of them more power in her life. They suffer the consequences, but they LIVED! This is a book that liberates a woman's soul. Five stars!
on May 7, 2015
First of all, dear Amazon--people motivated to write book reviews--let me amend that, people motivated to READ--probably do not need/want/like a list of forced adjectives into which they are prompted to narrow their thoughts. Please cease and desist.
My daughter and I are always on the look-out for well-written books about the Subcontinent--particularly those written by Indians, Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis, and even more particularly, those written by and about women. So many that we have encountered are so disappointing that we were initially much taken with this picaresque novel. The moving train, while certainly not a new device for bringing together very different characters and allowing their tales to unfold, is still effective. (After all, how did Chaucer's pilgrims on their way to Canterbury manage to HEAR the tales recounted by their fellow wayfarers? And yet, the imperfect frame allows us to enjoy many stories in one.)
In reading the reviews already posted here, I notice that the range of comments is unusually broad. Some find the book riveting and beautifully written. Others announce that it is hackneyed and shoddily constructed. My daughter and I found justification for both points of view.
Nair is a deft writer and a shrewd observer. Her descriptions of ordinary life and domestic challenges are especially seductive and convincing. She gives each of her characters a distinctive voice, philosophy, and history, and together they represent different female experiences that share only one commonality: a moment of epiphany that motivates great personal transformation. We hear from a elderly woman, a teenager, and women at various stages of middle age, wives and "spinsters" (widows are "covered" in the stories told), the conventionally educated and those whose education has been restricted by poverty. The roles of "daughter" and "unhappy wife" and "self-sacrificing elder sister" and "unwilling mother" are superbly played, and we hear from both Hindus and Christians. We were sorry that the coupe included no Muslims or doting mothers, but each tale told was intriguing. It was gratifying that the narrative was not constantly interrupted so that words and customs could be explained to those unfamiliar with South India. There was no "an idli, a kind of steamed cake," or "the pavada davani, or half-sari, the traditional dress" to interrupt the flow of incidents, although meanings were conveyed clearly enough so that no glossary was needed.
So we found much to admire in the book, but we did wish that it had undergone one further draft before being finalized. We did not object to the unresolved ending of the book. . .in fact, we rather liked it that we could continue Akhila's saga for ourselves. There is no real transition from Marikolanthu's story, however, and the "frame story" (the train journey); the abruptness was too startling. Akhila mulls over the other tales she hears; this one, though, is simply told.
Also, although Nair resists the temptation to delineate overtly the effect each story has on the protagonist, each character is somewhat unidimensional. Even Akhila, while more rounded that her fellow passengers, is seen too much from the outside. The final chapter, as a result, is out-of-sync with what we have learned of her. One more draft and the eye of an attentive editor (we also found many typographical errors!) would have improved what was, overall, a pleasurable reading experience.
Those unfamiliar with Tamil Nadu, and especially with the orthodox "Tam Brams" (Tamil Brahmins) may learn much about the culture from this novel, and the stories, while a bit too political (are there no happy Indian women other than Akhila's once-glimpsed widowed friend?) are absorbing in themselves, although sometimes painful to read. (American readers may shout at the print, "Tell that witch Padma to shut up, pack up, and get out!" or "Why are you listening to your narcissistic perverted husband?")
Despite its shortcomings, we appreciated much in this novel--published 14 years ago. We liked it enough to look for other writings by Anita Nair. Read with an open mind and heart
on April 27, 2013
This novel about Akila's life was engrossing, and the path she travels and the decision she takes were masterfully portrayed by Anita Nair in her own way. Being from Madras, this novel is more closer to my heart as she travels the roads of Ambattur, the train travels, bus travel to office in Nungambakkam. the recipes of Murukku, Cheedai, etc. just made me reminisce by older days when my grandma used to do lot of eateries during weekends, holidays, and festivals. Also, the other characters, Akila's family and friends, were well etched. Overall, it's a nice read with some heavy plots at the end of the novel, like one that of Marikolunthu's characters had a great impact on me. Also, not to forget the scene of Akila's father's demise and how she takes the burden in her shoulder as a family woman just made me cry. A BIG THUMBS-UP.