The title would have you believe this is a love story, and it is - in a manner of speaking. Not quite what you would expect, and certainly not chick-lit. Let me start by saying that Kishwar Desai has gone on record saying she was quite angry when she wrote this. As with her first book Witness the Night (which won the Costa Award), she's picked a pressing social issue to form the backbone of her book.
In this case, she writes about the surrogacy boom, estimated as a 1 billion dollar industry here in India, with considerable demand for Indian surrogates not just from within the country, but abroad as well. As with any scheme that starts with a noble motive - providing succour to couples who desperately want children -- there is ample scope for the uglier side of human nature; exploitation, greed, manipulation and some plain unethical behaviour.
Simran Singh, the gutsy highly principled, resourceful single woman at the heart of this plot (and a hero of the first book as well, which I haven't yet read, I must admit) is a very likeable protagonist, even if inclined to fall in love in a sort of woolly-headed fashion. I like the idea of having a strong single woman as the protagonist. She has an adopted daughter and her own mother to center her - and a rather surprising love interest -- well, surprising if you're the sort that would question a dashing, handsome character with possible shades of grey and serious commitment phobia!
Kishwar Desai\'s \'Origins of Love,\' is not quite what you would expect, and certainly not chick-lit.
But pleasantries aside, the heart of this drama is exploitation -- We may know that the ART Bill is in limbo, and that has led to all sort of legal loopholes and lacunae, and we may have heard hints of sordid dramas being enacted far from the media glare. But Desai reveals several new disturbing facets to the surrogacy boom in India, from women who are induced into having more pregnancies per natural cycle than is healthy, women who are pumped full of fertility drugs to such an extent that their ovaries are dangerously swollen, and at risk of bursting -- placing the woman, I need barely add, at serious health risk -- to women who are promised financial inducements, but then are forced by someone else (father/husband/ brother) to part with the money. She writes about clinics that keep track of caste and creed, religion and physical attributes, because people come in asking for specific tailor-made babies. And there are no safeguards, necessarily. It's not hard to imagine a disease going undetected, passed on from donor to mother to baby. What is going on, really? Women as milch cows? Wombs for hire? Women's wombs being used to barter favours - all of this is happening right under our noses. It's quite a horrific picture being painted, with ethics not even on the agenda.
Of course this is a novel, and as such it's quite the pot-boiler that Desai weaves! While I'm not sure the attempted murder angle really does fly, some of the characters could have been more fleshed out. Like Dr Gupta, as well as Simran's friends Doctors Anita and Subhash. Having said that, Desai paints a vivid picture -- and it's quite chilling to know that the seizure of embryos at Mumbai airport that kicks off this entire plot, really did happen. Even if the convoluted net of blackmail, power politics and drama are a figment of imagination -- it's also a chilling, but known fact, that doctors at clinics do experiment with embryonic stem cells, with all that it entails.
The book will be launched this evening in Delhi, and I hope to ask Kishwar Desai and the other panelists, Brinda Karat and Prasoon Joshi much more, so will keep you posted!
Title: Origins of Love; Author: Kishwar Desai; Publisher: Simon & Schuster