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Purple Lotus: Atlanta comes alive in Veena Rao’s debut novel

Purple Lotus: A Novel by Veena Rao

Reviewed by Mahadev Desai

Veena Rao’s debut novel Purple Lotus has garnered profuse praise from literary critics and readers alike. Through Tara, the protagonists’ journey, the engrossing novel deals with several themes of gender discrimination, abusive and violent marital relationships, pressures on women exerted by patriarchal societies, self- empowerment, victim-shaming, etc.

Eight-year-old Tara’s father gets a job in Dubai and moves there with Tara’s Amma, and young brother, leaving Tara behind with her grandparents and a loving but schizophrenic uncle in Mangalore.
Abandoned and lonely, Tara spends her free time reading books from the library and occasional outings with her uncle. Later on, she befriends a Catholic student, and a couple of teenagers and while playing indoor games. She and her buddy Cyrus Saldanha experience a mutual crush, but they have to part as Tara’s parents return from Dubai for good.

To pursue her interest in journalism, Tara starts working with a newspaper. As she reaches mid-twenties, her family and relatives start pressuring her to get married. And despite agreeing to an arranged marriage with Sanjay, she has to suffer taunts and jeers from her family and relatives as she has to wait for three years before Sanjay, who is working in the US invites her. She soon finds that her husband does not like her. He keeps aloof, is uncommunicative and slowly begins verbally and physically abusing her. Her family advises her to be patient and make the marriage work. She feels trapped until she meets bubbly Russian immigrant Alyona who becomes a good companion.

As soon as she is legally allowed to work in the US, Alyona helps Tara find a cleaning job. After leaving her husband, two Americans Ruth and Dottie offer her temporary accommodation and help in settling down. She attends IT classes where she makes Indian friends. She even tries a bit of modelling. In big cities in the US, being able to drive is a must. It is amusing to learn that Tara, who was afraid of driving, had to take seven tests before getting a driver’s license! After some time, she reconnects with her childhood buddy Cyrus and marries him. Both of them live a happy, enriching and fulfilling life engaging in humanitarian aid to poor and marginalized.

But Tara still has to face her deep-rooted fears of abandonment to confront her patriarchal family and relations.

In the concluding chapter, Tara writes “Not all monsters are egregious. Some stay hidden in plain sight. They wear a normal mask. They don’t set you on fire. They crush your spirit slowly, until you die every day, from loneliness, purposelessness, worthlessness, hopelessness… I was expected to exist for society. I chose to live. To love. I take heart in the knowledge that the monsters around me do not sully me, because the names they have for me are not the names I give myself.”

Rao vividly describes some of the familiar landmarks, food and celebration of some popular festivals in Atlanta and Mangalore. The bonding between kindhearted women of different races and ethnicities helps Tara overcome all odds and ultimately help her way out of it all.
The aptly titled emotive novel with rich prose and finely etched characters moves at a brisk pace.

Veena Rao was born and raised in India, but calls Atlanta home. She is the founding editor and publisher of a popular Atlanta-based Indian American newspaper NRI Pulse. She has been featured in the Limca Book of Records as the first Indian woman to edit and publish a newspaper outside India. Purple Lotus is the Winner of the She Writes Press and Spark Press Toward Equality in Publishing (STEP) contest.

Rao’s well-crafted Purple Lotus novel is definitely a MUST READ.
Purple Lotus is available at your local book store and on Amazon.


' Nov-01-2020