Sandhya Jane’s debut novel ‘A Second Spring … brings new hope’ reminded me of some novels by Indian women writers that I have read in the recent past. It also raised in my mind the same questions as contemporary women-centric works bring to the fore. Which is not to say ‘A Second Spring’ has been done before. It enjoys its own story-line and characters. Yet, it fits into the thematic mould of modern Indian women's writing rather well.
Avantika is a doting single mother and a successful investment banker, juggling her two roles with determination and discipline. Her confidence awes her colleagues and even more her juniors; Rohan, the attractive and smart aspiring banker, being no exception. Except, the handsome Rohan catches Avantika’s fancy in return too. The story proceeds as dual narrations alternating between Avantika’s thoughts and Rohan’s; their individual struggles with the idea of unconventional love yet their slowly growing dependence on and attraction for each other. Fate and free will both play a role in shaping their lives and easing the story onwards. Both protagonists speak directly to the readers throughout the book, spread over many years of their lives, but by the end of the novel the reins of the story are entirely in Avantika’s hands. Her ideas come to occupy centre-stage, eventually leading to the book's pleasantly surprising end and painting the aforementioned themes of women-centric novels in mature hues. Even though the blurb plays spoil sport by laying bare the whole story of ‘A Second Spring’, this review promises to say no more about the story.
The contemporary relevance of ‘A Second Spring’ lies in the issues that the book deals with. Marital troubles, single mothers, working professionals, younger lovers, tough decisions, opinions, power struggle between the sexes and how the presence of children defines and gives difficult dimensions to unconventional love affairs.
The appeal of the book lies in the character of Avantika – the way she has been created and the manner in which her thoughts and mental conflicts are portrayed, in her own voice and through Rohan’s narrations. What is also charming is the unhurried pace at which this love story progresses, especially in Part I of the book. That both the protagonists speak directly to the readers keeps the readers involved, often feeling like confidants into their secrets.
Avantika – the characterisation
The first predominant image of Avantika is of a mother who ‘wasn’t sure how I was going to manage carrying a child on my shoulder, three bags, and a travel mug of chai, but somehow I managed. I always did’. Strains of motherhood dot this working woman’s workaday as we see her chairing board meetings and rocking her son to sleep with equal ease. She does manage, knowing ‘small things counted big time’ with ‘the only man in my life’, Aarav, her son.
Sandhya managed to create a calm and complete life for Avantika, up until Avantika develops feelings of concern (and more) for another man, Rohan. Reality dawns – ‘At my age, at that time and level of success, one tended to fool oneself into believing that one had outgrown the need for admiration and excitement’. Being a woman who took risks but always on her own terms, dreams of unhindered love are always qualified with restraint. In the meantime, the fire is burning as brightly for the ‘boss-lady’ in Rohan’s six-years-younger heart, whose ‘basic innocence that people like me had lost along the way’ makes Avantika realize a part of herself which no longer exists. In keeping with everything about her, it is Avantika who opens her arms to Rohan, literally, in a scene beautifully rendered and expressed as ‘it was a bit awkward, but it felt so good, like this was just how it was meant to be’. Avantika makes the first move.
Each chapter gives voice to the conflict that is tearing at the unconfessed lovers’ insides. While Avantika’s somewhat maternal love for Rohan occupies her existence, to the extent of putting her time for her son at stake, Rohan cannot keep the thoughts of his conservative family away from his unconventional love story and though he ‘loved her too … (but) was confused by her’.
The maturity with which Sandhya has created Avantika make her doubts and dealings extremely real – ‘Soon, he would have no time for me. I could see the lonely road ahead of me’ – she muses, with age, marital status and professional success in life throwing up barriers to what she saw as wanton lust but knew as affection like never felt before. But her strength of character rules when things go amiss. ‘I had no intentions of waking down that path again just because the great man had had a change of heart’, and all feelings are sent into ‘deep freeze’ when Rohan walks out of the scene. Avantika is a thinking woman, and a doer too.
Interestingly, this is where Part II begins, and this is the exact point where we see Avantika maturing up into a content woman, in touch with herself and one who has come to terms with the reality, albeit many miles from Mumbai, in a foreign country. Some beautiful scenes of contemplation, as one spring leads to another and Aarav grows up, offer us peeps into this woman’s evolving mind, still a mother first. She is alone, but not lonely, living in a community where ‘those sweet little homes looked happy to me – the very embodiment of family life. At least, this was the closest I came to it.’ Her child is a constant presence in her life, as are her studies, a friend who is ‘a sounding board for my deepest thoughts’, meditation and spiritual writing.
And Rohan? Reconciliation has seeped in with his absence, and so has belief in destiny, a destiny which throws up another surprise her way. This time however, Avantika is far from what she left behind. ‘Do I need to forgive him? Do I need to accept him?’ You need to read to find out what happens, but I’ll leave you with these last words of a wonderfully created character and who makes an excellent life-choice in the end –
‘These days, the highs and lows of life don’t get to me and I wonder if it’s acceptance or just indifference. Either way, I don’t get too involved in things beyond my control and that includes people… these days, words like passion, commitment, and forever sound strange to me.’
I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Sandhya’s own life’s philosophy has been used to create Avantika. It has to be the author baring her own mind through her character’s. The portrayal is so straight-from-the-heart that it cannot be any other way. Or can it? That the language has been kept simple and conversational, and devoid of heavy philosophy and lyricism that love stories are wont to have make it seem as if Sandhya knows these two people, for real.
Slow unfolding – the pace
Sandhya did remarkably well in keeping the pace of ‘A Second Spring’ slow. Also, there is no noise of too many characters. How else would the thoughts of the two main characters occupy prominence and keep the reader listening, attentively? Avantika and Rohan’s love is not in a hurry, and the plot unfolds in tune with that speed. Part I shows us their connection building in strength, slowly but steadily. From ‘strange chemistry’ to ‘living in his company, unknowingly’; from entering a pub after six years to finally catching herself opening her hotel door to him in her nightdress, this book is as much Love’s story of growth as it is a love story. Of course, ‘the power struggle is an inevitable aspect of the man-woman relationship’ and so while I insist on calling it ‘love’, the story is a sweet, romantic rendition of the former too.
In Part II, even though the linear narrative often skips many years together, the plot’s crests and troughs are kept limited to the central theme of the book; although by now we are more interested in Avantika’s story and Rohan calmly recedes to the background.
Ifs and buts
Of course, there are some. For instance, why has Sandhya felt obliged to explain every Hindi term in parenthesis right in the middle of the narrative? I thought it was unnecessary and also successful in breaking the reading flow. A glossary at the back of the book would have done just fine!
Then, at some points near the end of the book I realized how the readers are still being introduced to characters’ traits through the two narrations. It was not just late in the day but also not required, because by then we knew Avantika and Rohan like the back of our hands. After all, it had been them talking about each other throughout the book.
Rhea’s reality (read to know more) was an unnecessary thread and I so wished Aarav, at the end of the book, got a chapter to voice his life. That would have been a fitting way to see a mature mother’s hard work in flesh-and-bones. Maybe, in a sequel to the book?
‘A Second Spring’ is a tale about love with two protagonists but only one who manages to leave a mark in our thoughts. The book is how the story unfolds around her musing – ‘Thank God for normalcy. Thank God for family. I didn’t need anyone else, did I?’ and how she realizes that she does need someone only to re-examine her own decision, yet again. Overriding it all is ‘my sense of survival’ and a fantastic end which comes like a ‘Pleasant shock; joyous, explosive, unbridled’ making you wonder why the subtitle reads ‘It’s all about destiny’. Because this book is more about a mature woman’s bold, brave and wise decision-making ability rather than the fickleness of Fate alone.
An easy and enjoyable read for lovers of this genre.
'A Second Spring ... brings new hope' has been published by Sandhya Jane, 2014
[This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]