The latest novel from bestselling author Preeti Shenoy is a story about secrets, family and finding oneself.
“There are two kinds of secrets. Some we wear like an invisible cloak, which we don when we need to be shielded from the judging eyes of society, and discard over a few drinks in the company of friends. Others are the kind that weigh you down like a stone. You bury them deep, deep within you. You carry them around for so long that they become an intrinsic part of you, till you no longer see them as burdens. These kinds of secrets you take with you to the grave. Or at least you intend to.”
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Class and Caste
Alka lives in a cramped servant’s room in Mrs Shetty’s luxurious house in Delhi, where her mother is a maid. While Mrs Shetty feels she is doing a favour to Alka by sending her to the same school as her daughter, Alka feels like a kind of “charity project”, and dislikes being paraded around in front of Mrs Shetty’s friends—like a circus monkey who must perform and please its master. As Alka grows older, she studies hard but also begins to notice the differences between herself and her rich classmates. In her teens, she gets invited to a party where a boy misbehaves with her, and she feels humiliated. She is determined to be rich and buy her own house someday.
Where Life Takes You
After completing her Bachelor’s degree, Alka gets selected to a management institute in Bangalore, where she goes filled with hopes and dreams for her new life there. Tragically though, Alka’s mother soon passes away. Ashamed of her social background, Alka decides thereon to keep her past a secret—and tell no one about who she is and where she comes from.
At the institute, Alka befriends Manasi who is dating a boy called Krish. Manasi and Krish invite Alka to join them for a trip to Krish’s coffee plantation in nearby Sakleshpur. There, she meets Krish’s elder brother, Subbu, who had to drop out of school and take charge of the estate when his father passed away. While Subbu feels drawn to Alka, the latter feels a strange connection with Krish—and the feeling seems to be mutual. Alka also finds a way into their mother, Anandi’s, heart. Alka and Krish go on to have a secret relationship without Manasi’s knowledge. In the meantime, Anandi decides to arrange Subbu’s marriage with Alka. When Manasi becomes pregnant with Krish’s baby, Alka agrees to marry Subbu.
Many years later, the other big secret of Alka’s past—her origins—becomes known—something that she had hidden from everyone until now, and she is forced to confront her true identity again. The end of the story has her revisiting her past and righting all the wrongs in order to make peace with her present.
Coffee Estate Backdrop
A major part of the book is set against a coffee estate spread over four hundred acres in Karnataka’s Sakleshpur, complete with rich descriptions of its dense greenery, waterfalls, pepper vines, thick Nilgiri champa bushes, tall silver oak trees, and sounds of bird songs, cicadas and crickets.
“What was still fresh for her, was this glorious sight that stretched out before her. This magnificent, spectacular scene that she never got tired of—the deep green mountain peaks tiptoeing to kiss the cobalt-blue clouds. Every single day the sky changed. It was sometimes a deep purple, sometimes orange; at times a wispy white and, on a day like today, it was the brightest and loveliest blue.”
Preeti Shenoy also describes in vivid detail, the blossoming of the coffee flowers as well as variations between the Arabica and Robusta varieties.
The story of A Place Called Home, though a bit convoluted, has several twists and turns. The end of the story is a kind of “homecoming” for Alka, making sense of all the little bits and pieces of her life so far. She finds a letter her mother left behind, asking her to be a strong and fearless fighter. It gives her the wisdom and courage to go back and fight for what is rightfully hers. Further, Preeti Shenoy has a very simple, to-the-point writing style, making the book a rather quick and easy read.
“We’re the choices we make. We have to face the consequences of our actions.”