The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta
Meet Geetika Mehendiratta, born into a family of modest means and progressive ways, in a place where ‘there was nothing to do except cry, make a phone call or masturbate’.
Desertvadi, Rajasthan, is a retirees’ paradise, but a claustrophobic nightmare for a young girl. Especially one steeped in stories from faraway lands where people lived liberated, extraordinary lives on which novels upon novels are written. Geetika thrives on fiction and in her academics, but the prospect of living out her youth circumscribed by small-town mediocrity begins to suffocate her.
So when an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the big, bustling Lutyenabad presents itself, Geetika leaps at it, eager to get away from her parents and the miasma of chronic boredom that envelops Desertvadi. But she’s hardly prepared for how the metropolis is about to fling the windows of her mind wide open. Soon, her aspirations inflate in proportion to her dreams; her tastes evolve and her ambitions solidify. She has a new goal now: to master the ways of Lutyenabad.
But even as the cosmopolitan life begins to feel like a snug fit and her steady boyfriend, a famously fine catch, offers her a plush, conventional marriage, Geetika wallows in doubt. When her reverie inevitably shatters, Geetika is compelled to face some tough questions.
Whose was this life she was living? How can she make it her own? Geetika finally finds a resolution in a startling new life choice.
Republished for the first time since 1993, The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta is a one-of-a-kind, hilarious and heartening coming-of-age story of a girl and a culture; a delightful meditation on the complexities of simpler times.
Praise for the Novel
1. Anuradha Marwah Roy’s remarkable first novel, intelligently crafted, touchingly told. Free from stylistic affectations, her fluent prose is devoid of the subverting impact of pleonastic frills – a virtue few debutante-writers can claim to possess. Reflecting a bilingual sensibility, what emerges as a very obvious concern is her desire to be recognized as a natural storyteller.
2. What is not to be taken for granted are the clear flashes of insight into character, the incisive use of dialogue to pad out the even tone of the narrative style, so that Geetika becomes unforgettable not just for her polysyllabic name (which she hates) but because she has been so believably and recognizably put together – the new Indian woman coming to terms with herself in an Indian society from which she can expect no quarter and to which she will grant none.
3. The book is wholly modern and yet Indian enough, is fluently written and easily read.
4. It is a charming story, written blandly and without excessive emotion, about growing up. The style is reminiscent of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series.
5. Geetika, the girl, the teenager, the post-graduate student rings true. You delight in her discoveries and share her pain.
6. Not many Indian writers have dared to use the M-word and one appreciates the candid talk, especially because it is almost impossible for women writers in India to tear away the strait jacket of social-prudery and feminine grace imposed on them - more so when the narration is in the first person.
7. Humour is the surprise in Roy's debut novel. It has a female protagonist writing in the first person in gleeful abandon.
8. College is the time for fun, cutting classes and generally having the time of ones life. It is also the time one grows up to be an adult: often having ones first independent encounter with the outside world and the opposite sex. Geetika, the heroine in Roy's short novel is narrating her experience of this period.
9. (The writer) is witty, tackling an emotionally charged subject with just the right amount of melancholy. She's brooding, and she's full of questions just waiting to be answered.
10. Geetika traverses the geographical and mental space between a small town in Rajasthan and the national capital. First novels are notoriously unreliable for future projection, but collectively these books point to an indigenous state of good literary health. The diverse and high-spirited English novels appearing now in India can bypass the rules of the game set by multinational publishing houses because their target audience is at home among readers who can catch all the nuances, an audience they share with the writers in the Indian languages. If by virtue of their chosen tongue the world gets to know them, that is an extra bonus.
11. The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta (1993), which is written in the form of ‘bildungsroman’, and set in a post-independent India between the late 1970s and 80s, dialectically engages with the multilateral scholarly debates on the concept of female education in India, as an indispensable tool for women empowerment. The underlying existential crisis, as a perpetual signifier of her (Geetika's) self-discovery, through denial and transcendence of conventional boundaries, exemplifies an average middle-class third world woman's ceaseless intrapersonal and interpersonal struggle with the dominant phallocentric ideologies in her claim for equal gender rights.
12. Presentation of a protagonist as a student and a teacher is also found in Anuradha Marwah Roy’s renowned novel The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta (1993). The small-town girl, who aspires to become civil servant, joins M.Phil course at Jana University, faces difficulty with her research supervisor. Her choice of becoming a lecturer to lead an independent life and her plans to take up writing are dealt with three-fold aspects of campus life in the novel.
13. Anuradha Marwah Roy is another such novelist whose remarkable novel The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta (1993) puts together the trials and tribulations of young researchers and aspirants to jobs in the academia.
14. Her (Geetika's) decision to raise the child that would be born out of wedlock reveals her understanding of the meaning of higher education. She believes that “Higher education could also mean breaking free from a constricting value system”
15. Anuradha Marwah Roy’s The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta casts light on the difficulties faced by students at the hands of lecturers during post-graduation and at the hands of supervisors during research.
16. I think this (The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta) is a remarkably moving and successful book, especially in its first half, because it manages to invent a new language to convey the experience of growing up in a town such as Ajmer.
17. Marwah-Roy's narrator goes to college in Desertvadi (read Ajmer), where students from the nearby 'Macaulay College' aspire to get into an elite institution known only as The College in Lutyenabad. 'The College was so named because it did not need a name, everybody not only in Lutyenabad but in the whole country knew it was the best. The College and Rosalind House had a special relationship.' Most alumni of these thinly disguised institutions will have no difficulty in decoding these references.
18. Higher Education is not primarily a campus novel, though we get some fine satire of higher education in India when Geetika joins Jana postgraduate university (JNU) at Lutyenabad to do her M.Phil. Her research supervisor never discusses the text with Geetika, she simply gives her a long bibliography of French writers. Trying to get ahead by claiming acquaintance with the latest in critical theory is not confined to Indian academia. In Malcolm Bradbury's campus novel The History Man, the protagonist gets away with peddling new theories.