Arzu written by Riva Razdan, published by Hachette India, is priced at Rs.399, addresses complex issues that concern young girls — marriage and relationships, education, family and sex, writes Ilika Trivedi
Arzu is essentially a coming-of-age story but the charm of the book is that it beautifully captures the process of growth, change and hard work, which can be very difficult to write about in an interesting way. Arzu’s efforts to develop herself, find fulfillment and her place in the world are especially inspiring for young readers trying to figure themselves out. The book is an unexpected treat, filled with nuggets of wisdom, which are eye opening, both for Arzu and reader.
Razdan has brought a strong female protagonist to life in a world that is simultaneously fancy and realistic. The setting of uber rich societies of Mumbai and New York with conversations about travelling in Europe, finishing schools and debutante balls bring an element of fantasy to the book, reminding this reviewer of the phase when she followed Gossip Girl on television.
A strong girl, Arzu goes through her fair share of troubles, heartbreaks and confusion, transforming into an even stronger and bolder young woman. The book addresses complex issues that concern young girls — marriage and relationships, friends and beauty standards, education and family, sex and virginity. And all of this is done in a nuanced manner that is serious and entertaining at the same time.
The importance of family and friends is at the core of this story. Arzu is pampered and spoiled by a doting father who loves her too much and understands her even more deeply. The fact that Ajit trusts his daughter to be independent, despite the mistakes she might have made in the past, is a lesson that should be absorbed by all Indian parents. Arzu’s love and loyalty for her aunt Parul despite their polar opposite world views is something to cherish. Young girls have enough problems without adding the burden of competition among themselves, and Arzu’s friendship with Sarah and Aparna shows the importance of female bonding.
Set in the newly globalising India of 1991, the book sharply addresses India’s political and economic climate. The disparate threads of complicated concepts such as the country’s economic reforms, corrupt licence raj, political personalities of the time, the media and business atmosphere, are woven seamlessly. The pacing of the book is perfect, and chapters flow together naturally, making the book an unputdownable page-turner. The language is moderately difficult in certain passages because some themes necessitate technical explanations.
Perhaps the book’s most important feature is Arzu’s decision of marriage. The accepted norm of elite girls marrying boys of similar status and upbringing, and the expectation of early marriage is questioned throughout.
How girls underestimate their own potential and choose to deny themselves ambition despite belonging to privileged families is brought up repeatedly. Contemporary girls can derive inspiration from this story. If Arzu can fight the expectations of society in young age, girls can surely stand up for their beliefs and goals today.
Another important lesson is choosing the right marriage partner. Arzu’s poor decision making when it comes to relationships has an impact on her. But maturity, strength and resilience comes with experiences and over the course of the book, Arzu understands the qualities she needs from her future partner, whenever that stage arrives. Razdan presents various suitors for Arzu and how they treat different facets of her, is an art in itself.
The life of privilege is different in terms of surroundings and opportunities but concerns of the young are universal regardless of background. In the midst of a fancy New York lifestyle, Arzu faces numerous situations which every girl can relate to. She is looking to find her identity and path in life, independent of her role as her father’s daughter or someone else’s wife. Arzu’s determination to achieve this goal and her dedication to prove herself with her never-back-down attitude is strongly motivating. The book is a refreshing read for any girl who needs a pick-me-up or a nudge to push her towards achieving her dreams.