Power Surge in Eden by Eva Bell
Novel | Chennai: Notion Press. 2015 | ISBN 978-93-5206-483-0 | Pages 225| Rs 225
A way-out idea for stressed-out working women
Dr Eva Bell, the author of Power Surge in Eden is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, a seasoned novelist and a freelance writer. Her other novels are Silver Amulet, When Shadows Flee, Halo of Deceit, and Runaway Widow. Power Surge in Eden is an exciting story of four feisty and accomplished German girls of Indian origin, who as a coherent team visit India to serve it in a thanksgiving gesture and also to trace their biological parents who had left them post-delivery for adoption by childless German couples. The girls experience thrills and chills, moments of fulfilment and sighs of resignation, cooperation as well as calumniation, in a story replete with suspense and surprise at every turn, and meandering through a maze of relationships – from the altruistic to the grossly egotistic. Meet-cute couples, romantic affairs, teenage marriages; premarital and extramarital liaisons; seductions and rapes; abortions, broken homes and divorces; inter-caste marriages and conflicts; personality and attachment disorders; mega-swindles and subterfuges – make your platter full. The meaningful Preface by Mary Paul, Director, Vathsalya Charitable Trust, Bengaluru captures the crux of the theme.
“The Adoption Triad with the child at the apex and the birth and adoptive parents at the base continue to influence each other almost of their life… Dr Eva Bell in her characteristic way has taken an issue of importance and interestingly woven together the threads of curiosity, secrecy, mystery and absolute facts. This book will touch the hearts of all who believe that the family matters.”
The four girls on the mission are: Dharma, a psychology counsellor; Ena, a Master in Social Work; Lillian, a farming and gardening expert; and Nancy, an experienced Master in Hotel Management. What exactly is their Indian mission? It’s basically Dharma’s idea who “had worked in London for a year… to help Indian immigrant women with their many problems… The organization that employed her was committed to the welfare of educated, middle class Indian women. They were the casualties of the 21st century, performing an incredible feat of juggling home and profession and trying to excel at both. They were rapidly turning into split personalities, putting on a face of cool composure and professionalism at work, but reverting to traditional harassed housewives at home, forever trying to please their husbands and children and receiving no appreciation or gratitude for their work.”
Dharma is of conviction that women sometimes want to be alone, away from husband, children and responsibilities. “That doesn’t make them unfaithful or negligent. Lack of ‘time alone’ can damage relationships, stifle creativity and even lead to psychological problems in women.” To cater to such women, Dharma resolves to “open a Health Resort called Eden – a place of tranquillity, where stressed-out working women can periodically come for short stays, to de-stress and go back to their homes and jobs refreshed and rejuvenated.” This idea germinates and gels in her mind when she is gifted an estate in a scenic hilly countryside in Karnataka by her unknown biological father. And the girls open Eden in Sep 1993. Nancy serves as chef and house mother; and Lillian, takes care of the farm and garden. Besides being the owner-cum- manager, Dharma along with Ena associates with the Mercy Mission Hospital in the neighbourhood and is into community health to create awareness in rural women.
While the idea of a solitary retreat to the stressed out women is welcome, this reviewer considers that they have to reckon with the reality prevailing in the country as to women’s safety. When women are being molested even in public places, won’t solitary and unescorted women – leaving their family in dark about their journey and place of destination –expose themselves to the risks of kidnapping and assault? All the same, the idea of exclusive women’s getaways is certainly a welcome idea provided they are run with absolute safety and the women take their family into confidence because, after all, the stability of a family rests on the foundations of trust, more so when the avowed purpose of a women’s retreat is family harmony. As of now in India, we have only travel agencies that cater to exclusive women tours, and it appears that there are no exclusive retreats, and one of them confirms the idea in its ad: “Women travel together to rejuvenate their mind, body, and spirit.”
Go through the vicissitudes of the four girls, and you would say: How heart-rending it would be for children to live in a far-off country with an altogether different culture with their adoptive parents – for ever removed from their birth parents from a different country! This is what the book makes us feel with its subliminal and non-perorating touch.
The girls, like the Missionary Hospital earlier, come under the scanner of the activists of a certain “fundamentalist” or “Right wing” group or political party (“the wrong political party”), and have to face challenges and tense moments, warranting legal and police intervention. Here some of the readers are apt to feel that the author tends to have a one-sided antipathy to these outfits, and a one-sided empathy to the Christian missionaries. One-sided because the ground realities outside this story and in the country have been generally different right from Gandhi’s times and have led to anti-Conversion legislations by many states in India. This is not, however, to rule out the existence of Mission hospitals doing selfless service. Anyway, this minor perceptional difference doesn’t mar the march of the story or our fun.
Interwoven are the interesting subplots of Veda, Dileep Shenoy, and Dr Monica Lal. Veda, a young entrepreneur, runs a chain of restaurants. Her husband Prakash Swami is a powerful MLA, of another caste. The story of Sumi, Veda’s mother, is as mysterious as that of lawyer Dileep, who when twenty left for the USA and returned only after twenty-five years to practise at Mangalore. Dr Monica, a just retired government doctor steals into Eden, leaving no word to her son Tony, who is doing a degree in journalism and eventually becomes a news reporter. Encouraged by his editor to also get to probe any of the long-standing, unsolved and closed police cases, he narrows down on that of his own father Wing Commander Harry Lal who had been killed in a suspicious accident twenty years ago, and the ‘closed’ case now comes to be reopened.
The German ambience has been aptly introduced with its cuisine like Schnell Imbis, Fladle Suppe with pancake strips, Maultaschn, and Sauerkraut with Ripple; and greetings like Guten appétit.
Dr Monica, who passionately plans to record her professional memories by writing a book “The Romance of a Doctor’s Life,” finds the Mission hospital “different from the callous air of the government hospitals or the impersonal business-like atmosphere of private hospitals.”
The book generates stimulating ideas on eco-friendly ways. Farming and dairy at Eden are organic and conservational aimed at self-sufficiency. “Even the dung [of the cows that give milk enough for the inmates] is used for the gas plant which lights up our rooms at night,” explains Lillian to Monica. And Dr Salins, who helps Lillian in her farming ideas, “not only cultivates the fruit [pineapple] but has a canning factory too. Nothing of the plant is wasted. Even the fibres from the leaves are extracted.”
It is education and innate cultural refinement and not a one-sided growth of gross material wealth that brings us in harmony with Nature. Dileep is on his way to Eden and sees the contrast in the country-and-town scene from what it was twenty five years ago before he had left for the USA.
“The old independent houses nestling in shady gardens, the coconut and areca nut groves, the large expansive green fields on either side as far as the eye could see, had all but disappeared. Now this road was called the National Highway. Concrete high rise buildings with ugly facades, shops and supermarkets flooded with fancy goods lined the road. Traffic was bumper to bumper. The blaring horns and loud music from the buildings made driving unpleasant."
"Obviously this change is due to the petrodollar coming from the Middle East," Dileep thought, "It has made many people wealthy. But the display of wealth is not necessarily artistic.”
And about the state of general public hygiene in India here is Nancy’s take, and rightly so: “I’m glad I live in Germany… While there is much I love about this country [India], there are things I can never get used to. The red betel juice sprayed on walls and pavements, the snot that is blown out with no consideration for where it lands – these things make me sick.” This ingrained psyche of apathy to public health has at least now bestirred the government into the campaign of Swachch Bharat, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative. There is a need for concerted and accelerated action, one would feel.
There is the concern for the vanishing species of the sparrow. “One rarely gets to see sparrows in Bombay these days. Even the crows have fled the city” (Monica to Lillian while at Eden). A ray of hope sprang up in this reviewer when during a couple of months of his stay in Mumbai in Aug-Sep 2015, he did find a good number of sparrows in the company of pigeons and crows perching and playing on the cross-bars of electric poles in the Charkop area.
The finale leaves enough hint for a sequel, and let’s hope the writer comes out with one.
Reverting to the craftsmanship of Eva Bell, full marks to her for employing in the book every essential dramatic technique – complication, conflict, flashback, foreshadowing, climax, denouement, anagnorisis, pathos, hubris, nemesis and catharsis –with an amazing dexterity.
(A shorter version of this review was published in The Hans India daily, Mar 6, 2016)