A coming-of-age tale

Book: A Patchwork Family

Author: Mukta Sathe

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 224; Price: Rs 299

Mukta Sathe, through her debut novel, A Patchwork Family raises pertinent and to some extent disturbing questions about the prevailing legal system in India, the complexity of relationships, the wider social system, and at a deeper level, the curious conception of truth. The novel begins in the present and thereafter travels back in time to narrate the story of Janaki and the trials and tribulations she undergoes as part of seeking justice for her best friend. The author painstakingly describes minute details about Janaki’s childhood, her growing up years, her beliefs and ideals.

Being the only eyewitness to her best friend, Sandhya’s gruesome rape and murder, it is imperative for Janaki to identify the perpetrators such that justice may be delivered. In the process, the readers are privy to Janaki’s unending struggle with herself and her family, her deepest fears and insecurities, her unsettling honesty about not making enough effort to save her best friend, testifying against her brother, Rahul, and finally losing her real family. Her experiences evoke empathy and a deep understanding of her constant state of conflict with the judicial system, the ‘others’ who despite being her own family are unable to understand her, her conscience, and the world at large.

It is in this state that Ajoba, her grandfather’s elderly friend, becomes her ‘family’ and their story of coming together, forced me, as the reader, to introspect and question the real import of a family beyond blood or marital ties. Perhaps the most poignant moments in the novel are the ones wherein Janaki justifies herself and her actions to herself and the family; these incidents also bring her relationship with Ajoba, based on a shared understanding of life and its vagaries, to the fore. In fact, the novel is also Ajoba’s ‘coming of age’ story in terms of aging with the city of his residence, Pune; living through his wife’s cancer; his philosophy of leading a complete life within the constructs of nature; and his resignation to fate.

Unusually perceptive and mature, the novel is a statement on modern-day conceptions of truth, conscience, ideals, and fate, forcing us to question ourselves.