Kitaab Review: The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potkar

by Monica Arora

breastsThe Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potkar (Kindle, 2014) doesn’t have just its Maths, but also its Chemistry, Physics and Biology in the right measure. These bold and tantalising tales of myriad men and women grappling with issues of relationships and passion, offer much insight into the dark recesses of the human mind pertaining to their romantic pursuits. Rochelle Potkar’s easy style of writing and her ability to conjure up images whilst narrating her “seven and a half stories” draws the reader into the worlds of the characters, and enables the reader to empathise with their peculiar predicaments.

Narain’s raw passion for Munika in the title story “The Arithmetic of Breasts” is so powerful and strong that it almost leaps out of the pages, and the intensity of their love-making is beautifully described with small, intimate details.

Particularly interesting are some of the contrasting circumstances encountered by the women protagonists in different set-ups and that in itself makes for much though-provoking pondering. The young devadasi’s yearning for freedom from the South Indian temple in “A place they call Scary” is completely divergent from the modern Dia in “The Room with a Sea-view” in metropolitan Bombay, and yet both women are running away from their realities and seeking answers about their identities, sexuality and their lovers.

“Sky Park” is a compelling and moving saga narrated in first person by the three main protagonists and lends a very personal voice, almost akin to reading someone’s diary. It is about the childhood of a tender and fragile Jackie, a childhood fraught with sexual abuse and angst, and Jackie’s tryst with her first crush, Nic.

The basic premise of “Dr. Love” is so tender and compelling that the heart goes out to the young girl who is willing to go to any lengths to be in her lover’s arms; such is her belief in the power of love.

Shonali’s inner conflict on infidelity and cheating on others’ spouses leaves many questions unanswered and creates a huge internal dialogue, leaving her grappling for the right solution in “The Scent of a Conscience”, quite unlike Neel who is extremely practical about an extra-marital affair and has a very no-nonsense attitude.

My favourite character in this unusual collection of short stories is Pradha from the story “What Men Want”. She is the complete anti-thesis of a typical Indian woman whose life ideally must revolve around her husband, kids, marriage, home, parents and in-laws. Her life is completely deconstructed in this modern saga of extra-marital affairs. Pradha left me wondering about the vulnerability and the typical mindset of a man, no matter how modern or evolved he considers himself to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of these delightful little pieces with extremely nuanced details of the characters’ physical attributes and their lives, and the homes they inhabit.

Sample this extract describing Narain’s perception of Kunika in “The Arithmetic of Breasts”:

Sometimes even the thought of her face was enough. Her bow-shaped, rouge-painted pout, bordered in pink-fuchsia tempted him as strongly as her kohl-rimmed eyes, lightly rouged cheeks, or slender nose. Concentrating on only one part of her was not fair, he chided himself with Faustian pleasure.

Or this line from “The Room with a Sea-view” describing the room with the sea view:

Their names and allusions running over his wide walls, white marbled floors and windows long after they were gone.

Sensuous, yet very aesthetically rendered, Rochelle Potkar has created a fresh perception of modern sexual relationships and the politics driving men and women alike in order to be one up against their lover, spouse or sexual partner, which often leads to unexpected circumstances. An extremely refreshing read!