I had no idea when I picked this book to what it entails. The cover page with a picture of this beautiful woman called out to me and that’s how I discovered ‘Relationship’. As I flipped through the pages, my curiosity piqued to a great extent. Relationship is a very different book; different because it entails a series of letter exchange between two very high-profile figures of their times – Nayantara Sahgal, successful writer from Nehru-Gandhi family and EN Mangat Rai, one of the most distinguished civil servants of his generation.
I cannot well imagine the gossip scandals and how the grapevine would have intertwined the lives of characters who are not fictional at all, but individuals in the realm of affairs and known to the common man.
The book was initially published in 1994, co-authored by Nayantara and Mangat Rai, sending shockwaves and appreciation across the country. While it received a lot of public attention, what stands apart in this book is its sheer vulnerability and honesty. There were approx. 6000 letters exchanged between the lovers in the duration of 3 years and much of it has been captured in the book.
Raw vulnerability, total honesty, intelligent and open conversation between two people who connected with each other at an intellectual level – this is the only way I could see this book. The love affair was a cyclone of words being poured to one another with complete faith, understanding, love and openness. In a society, where one lives by pre-defined guidelines of “right and wrong”, “moral or immoral”, the letter exchange shows a clear demonstration of understanding these predicaments, human emotions, societal norms coupled with their own feelings and the individuals still trying to sail through turbulent waters. Neither of them were insensitive to social conventions, on the contrary, they were extremely aware of their responsibilities.
Nayantara’s account of her life with her ex-husband and the many challenges she faced in her marriage is haunting to say the least. In a society that reserves the harshest judgements for its women (this is the 1960’s though the situations even today is not very different), it takes exceptional courage to follow your heart and to make peace with your choices.
As Nayantara writes in one of her letters “In surrender and abandon, there is much truth and much strength”. This book indeed has much truth and much strength and a relationship that was birthed by two people at the core of their defining truth.
And for just that reason, this book was an absolute pleasure to read.