As the name suggests, the book is a romance novel but as I read eagerly through the pages, I realized that is was not a romantic novel in the traditional sense. Yes, there is girl (Meghna) meets boy (Aditya) and marries boy (Pankaj) and although that reads like a love triangle, it is not a story of two guys vying for the attention of the central girl character. In fact it is difficult to label the book into a standard slot. The book tells the story of Meghna, an exuberant, extrovert college girl in Bombay. She is confident, articulate and intelligent, and very real, bringing to mind someone we may all have known in our own youth. She knows her worth and has plans for her life that are not necessarily endorsed by her doting parents. A chance encounter with Aditya, a young rebel with socialistic leanings at an inter-college debate where they publicly spar on the topic of capitalism vs communism marks a turning point in her life. This is followed by three enchanting days in his company at Goa, an experience which marks her for the rest of her life.
Meghna then goes on to have a life that seems perfect and complete in every way - a rich husband, two lovely kids, supportive in-laws, a reliable group of friends and work that makes her happy. But the emptiness that she sees in herself, the growing discontent with the status quo, no matter how comfortable it appears on the outside is what she battles with. And then comes a point three decades after that fateful meeting in Goa, when she has a chance to keep her promise to meet Aditya in Goa. The book takes a look at what happens to established marital relationships which continue solely based on assumptions about the spouse and how even the most congenial relationships falter when the past appears unexpectedly.
The book is an easy read and moves quickly though the lives of the Meghna and her family. There are some lovely, poetic descriptions of Goa and profound passages of the discussions between Meghna and Aditya. But in the second half there are places where the author hits the right notes as to how women get labeled – when a friend remarks that only one of their group of four has not “settled down” meaning married with children. At that time, Meghna, who is already blessed with two kids, thinks to herself that she is also “not settled” – her private opinion of herself, so much in contrast with the prevailing public sentiment. Much later, Meghna muses about how many women seem relieved when their husbands die or they get divorced – a thought that is not voiced out aloud by women, although pondered upon quite often. My favorite paragraph is the one where Meghna wonders how Aditya might have changed in the intervening years –“Like things lose their magic when you grow up, old schools that appear small and cramped, old homes that appear ugly and unkempt, old loves that appear ordinary, old people who have no smiles left.”
The character of Aditya is enigmatic even as the details that appear to explain his unconventional behavior are revealed. But his name is not just a metaphor for the rising sun who brings warmth and laughter into Meghna’s life but also is a symbol of what we all need for inspiration to break from the self-imposed barriers of our life. We can reinvent ourselves through a mere memory of a time gone by, a simple word of encouragement, a personal talent that brings joy, a seed of something that is already and always within us, as long as we are willing to experience it.“If you love someone…” tells you that simply, and compellingly.