We travel to go far away from the place of our birth and see the other side of sunrise. We travel in search of our childhood; of births unconceived. We travel so that unfinished alphabets complete. Let farewell be imbued with promises. Let us move far away like the twilight that accompanies us and bids us farewell. We tear up destinies and disperse their pages in the wind before we find—or fail to find—our life story in other books.
Where does one start with the story and legacy of this remarkable Indian poet and writer? Controversial throughout her life for breaking many barriers, she addressed taboo subjects and themes related to sexuality, independence, child care, politics, etc., with a breathtaking candor, even for today’s India. During her lifetime, she was courted and respected by the West, giving lectures and talks as her works were translated into French, Spanish, German, etc. At the same time, the Indian media, and even some of her Indian contemporaries, dismissed her as an “attention-seeker” prone to theatricality. In her early-sixties, she took a decades-younger Muslim lover and converted to Islam for him, even taking the veil and changing her name to Kamala Suraiyya (though, she decided, later, that religious conversion was going a bit too far, even for love).
Let’s start with a brief non-spoiler story summary: Four new-money City men (Drigg, Brass, Frogmorton, Sawneyford) in 18th century England are anxious to get their five daughters (Marianne, Everina, Georgiana, Harriet, Alathea) married off to titled men. Sitting around in a coffeehouse, they come up with a plan to present the girls in a concert, playing the then-new pianoforte (over the more commonly-used harpsichord) so that they might attract marriage proposals from the right kind of men: titled aristocrats. And the fun and games begin.