When Mihika, 56 and a widow, gets drawn into a relationship with Zuhayr, a 60-year-old divorcee who was her late husband Aditya’s friend, it doesn’t seem to her like an event that should cause more than a raised eyebrow or two. Not in the twenty-first century, and not when their grown-up children are happy that their parents have found a second chance at happiness.
But in Tinigaon—a small town in Assam—it is just not done for a woman of Mihika’s age to have a romantic relationship—that, too, with a man from the Other Religion: a Muslim. Tinigaon’s Old Guard is scandalized as Mihika and Zuhayr are seen together in restaurants and cinema halls, ‘flaunting’ their affair. And a nosy neighbour, Ranjana, keeps the moral brigade busy with juicy details of Zuhayr’s late-night comings and goings from Mihika’s house.
Mihika decides to ignore the gossip-mongering and slander and remain true to her relationship with Zuhayr, who has filled a void in her life after Aditya’s death five years ago. As long as her four closest friends, Tara, Triveni, Shagufta and Pallavi, stand by her, she doesn’t care if others turn away. But when the gossip turns into something more sinister that could threaten her daughter Veda’s happiness, Mihika is forced to take a call—should she give up the man she loves for her daughter’s sake, or is there an alternative that could give them both what they want?
Writing with great sensitivity and gentle humour, Mitra Phukan proves once again that she is an extraordinary chronicler of the human heart. Rooted, like all her fiction, in the culture and sensibilities of Assam, What Will People Say? speaks to all of us, wherever we are, whoever we are.