Identity Crisis

Getting there is half the battle won.

It's difficult to find a word that completely describes Manjula Padmanabhan's "Getting There" - the story is set on such a diverse scale, both geographical and emotional, that it's hard to cubbyhole it into a specific niche or genre. That aside, though, "Getting There" is a poignant story of a woman's struggle to find herself, and of the questions that such a struggle invariably raises.

Set in the late 1970s and based loosely on events in the author's life, the story begins in Bombay, where Manjula is sharing a flat with her friend Sujaya. Their familiar surroundings are suddenly altered by the entry of two Dutch visitors on a spiritual trip to India. It is one of these Dutchmen, Piet, who attracts Manjula's attention with his views on spirituality and energy, and who convinces her to look at life anew. She begins a physical relationship with him, one unknown to her boyfriend Prashant, and also begins making plans to visit him in Holland.

It is the execution of this plan that "Getting There" is all about: as Manjula plans her quest for self-awareness, she is fully aware of the difficulties she will face, not least in detaching herself from her family, in order to find out more about herself. She travels to America, then to Germany and finally to Holland, where she meets Piet again, and discovers the answers to some of the questions she's been struggling with.

Her experiences, and the characters that populate "Getting There" make for interesting reading - there's her brother, a self-made man who harshly denounces her bohemian lifestyle; her sister in America, whose mannerisms are a strange mix of Eastern culture and Western sensibilities; her German friend Micki, who's recently given birth and who asks Manjula pointed questions about the purpose of her trip; and of course, Piet, his Dutch girlfriend Anneke and his friend Japp, and their completely lifestyle. The book is also packed with incisive descriptions of the places Manjula visits - from the holy man's house in Bombay to a temple with a American priest drawling in Sanskrit, to a feminist march in Munich, the word-pictures are sharp and clear, and leave the reader in no doubt as to where he is. But at its core, "Getting There" is about insecurity and nagging self-doubt, about wondering who you are and where you fit in - and realizing that sometimes, taking control of your own life is a great place to start answering those questions...

This article was first published on 20 Sep 2000.