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The Second Wife (“Nirmala”) – Book Review

February 22, 2013 Leave a comment

This novel is not for those who expect an element of entertainment from reading this book. The genre is quite dark and somber and may give you grinch that would steal all your excitement. That doesn’t mean this book is not worth reading but it is expected you to have a sense of appreciation for literary work accentuating callous social issues eating lives of weak and feeble.

Premchand has nicely woven the lives of different characters in the book. It is quite interesting to read how a small incidence associated with someone actually impacts the lives of all others. Apart from sending a social message in an assertive way, this book can be considered as reflection of Indian society back in the day.

Though the story of “The Second wife”, an English translation of Premchand’s “Nirmala” by David Rubin, is set in the pre-independence era, it still seems to be so fresh that you might relate various instances in the book to modern society in bits and parts. At times I found Premchand a bit careless with time frame set-up like in a span of 3 years, a character described as a student earlier, is later announced as a successful doctor with wife and a son. This story is about how families perished because of an unequal and imperfect wedding match. The female protagonist, Nirmala, was leading a comfortable and cheerful life in a big joint family with her father being sole earner. But there was something else stored in the womb of her future. Just when her father was about to set an alliance for her, he died. All the relatives who were leeching her father dry, were the first to flee when she needed their real support. To add to her woo, the boy cancelled the alliance fearing that she would not bring enough dowry after her father’s death. Forced by the situation or rather it should be said, to get rid of Nirmala and then focus on her siblings upbringing, Niramala’s mother marries her to an elderly widower, Totaram, with 3 teen-aged sons. Now starts a narration of an overwhelmingly painful story wrapped up in the ups and downs of emotionally abusive relationship.

Totaram’s excitement of getting re-married to a young girl starts vanishing soon as his suspicious thoughts get a grip over his mind and heart. Nirmala was of the same age of Totaram’s eldest son but grown motherly affection towards him soon after marriage. Totaram perceives this as adultery, which shattered and broke his son to the extent that this intense grief took his life. This incidence turned Nirmala, a fun loving character described earlier in the novel, completely callous and impassive. Death of Totaram’s eldest son, transformed his second son into an audacious and rebellious child. Events turn such that he commits suicide and youngest son of Totaram leaves house for ever. Aggrieved by the deaths of his sons, Totaram’s lost his interest in work and his career took a plunge that he could not even arrange 3 times meal in a day for his family. Highly dejected by her life had shown to her, Nirmala lost all zeal and zest for life. Later she also bids an adieu to the corrupt patriarchal society.

One has to understand that the book was written at the turn of 20th century when issues like child marriage, dowry system, forced marriages of young girls etc, held lives of women in agony and despair. Premchand sensitively touched upon the issue of injustice towards women prevailing in society during those days with earthiness. It is an all time classic and would recommend everyone to read it.