Book review: Leaving Home underlines the pleasures of singledom

  • Kanika Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2015 14:53 IST

Leaving Home With Half A Fridge: A Memoir
Arathi Menon
Pan Macmillan India
Rs 299; Pages 27

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Indian woman in possession of a sound mind must want to be married (and never divorced). Or at least, that is what the best friend's mother's aunt would have you believe. Challenging this 'truism' is this memoir by a) a woman who is b) divorced and c) in her mid-thirties. Put the three together and you have a bittersweet and refreshingly honest look at divorce, a common phenomenon in the metropolises these days.

Debutante writer Arathi Menon embraces her divorce with an open heart, making just about everyone who has suffered a break-up relate to her tale. Set in Mumbai, Menon, originally from Bengaluru, leads you through the ordeal of separation step by step. From telling her parents to finding her own flat in notoriously space-starved Maximum City (she ends up living next to her ex), Mumbai, to trying to unravel India's archaic and convoluted divorce laws, she chronicles her journey with a healthy dose of humour.

The quirkiness doesn't end with the title. It prepares you for more.

"I was always bad at mathematics and this division (of property) didn't seem logical," Menon explains. "What was the fairness quotient in all this? He keeps the washing machine so I get to keep the fridge? It didn't make any sense and it seemed, well, petty. I had given this man all of me. When he didn't value that, how would he know the value of half a fridge?"

Through the book, Menon fuses the painful with the funny. She admits, for instance, how she practised saying the word, 'divorcee' ten times before a mirror every morning, so as find a way to make it sound as cool as the word - 'single'. Or, how she bought an embroidered handkerchief from an old Parsi woman because she was so guilty about all the tissue paper she was wasting every time she broke into sobs, on the street, in taxis, on her new bed.

Menon is also refreshingly candid when it comes to her own role in the breakdown of the marriage. She admits to spitefully criticising her former husband and drawing a secret relish in telling him his one big dream was unattainable, and, after the divorce, 'breaking into' their marital home while he was away and cutting holes in his favourite T-shirts.

Yet, there is no washing of dirty linen in public. In fact, the precise reasons for the divorce are never stated.

Instead, exhuming the skeletons of marriage past, relationships present, and relationships future, Menon explores the insecurities and joys of being 35 and single - the attempts to look attractive, the analysing of the Ex before the Ex, the maternal pangs, the joys of settling in for dinner in your underwear.

As the chapters are short, the book is a breezy read, except for the occasional bits peppered with trite aphorisms or self-pity.

A section best skipped is the 12-step guide for the new divorcee, a banal and self-indulgent list of platitudes: 'let-go', 'get a job', 'take care of yourself'. Also tedious are the therapeutic chants of "I had nothing to lose" and "I looked without fear".
Overall, though, Menon offers an effective takedown of the self-appointed 'aunties' and their unsolicited advice and becomes an agony aunt of a different kind. Leaving... is interspersed with blank pages, inviting the reader to scribble their own notes of post-break-up angst.

Divorced or not, the book is a surprisingly cheery guide to how relationships work, and why they don't.

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