The Ex­am­ined Life

In frank prose, the aca­demic Padma De­sai traces the arc of her me­te­oric ca­reer and some­times rocky re­la­tion­ships, finds CHI­TRA BAN­ER­JEE DIVAKARUNI

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WITHIN MIN­UTES of be­gin­ning, Padma De­sai’s me­moir Break­ing Out: An In­dian Woman’s Amer­i­can Jour­ney, I was pleas­antly struck by the writer’s in­tel­li­gence and hon­esty — char­ac­ter­is­tics that I be­lieve are cru­cial to the cre­ation of worth­while mem­oirs. I wasn’t sur­prised. De­sai is, af­ter all, a world-class econ­o­mist, a for­mi­da­ble au­thor­ity on Rus­sia. Now in her 80s, set­tled in her long-term mar­riage with an­other fa­mous econ­o­mist, Jagdish Bhag­wati, there’s lit­tle in her life that she would feel the need to hide. As I went on, I en­joyed her hu­mour, rang­ing from gen­tle to astrin­gent, and her lit­er­ary eru­di­tion, a gift from her fa­ther, who was a pro­fes­sor of English. (The book is filled with scores of well-cho­sen quo­ta­tions that throw light on sit­u­a­tions and emo­tions, such as th­ese lines from Sap­pho, with which De­sai de­scribes her daugh­ter: “like a golden/flower/I wouldn’t/take all Croe­sus’/ king­dom with love/thrown in, for her.”)

But I wasn’t pre­pared for her open­ness which al­lows her to dis­cuss mat­ter-of-factly thorny is­sues such as her se­duc­tion by the man who later be­came her first hus­band and gave her gon­or­rhea; her un­sen­ti­men­tal yet deeply felt rec­ol­lec­tion of the tragedies and joys of her life,

Her open­ness and ded­i­ca­tion to truth, even if it re­flected neg­a­tively on

her dear ones, are the qual­i­ties that make this

book worth read­ing

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