Publication Date: February 16, 2015
In A Painful Ordeal by Aditi Chopra, Namrata is a transplant from India working at AppDev in the Silicon Valley when she reports that a co-worker has been sexually harassing her. Ritu, the investigator from Human Resources, doubts Namrata’s story. Is she telling the truth or using the system for her own ends?
A Painful Ordeal is an apt title for this work of fiction. The story seeks to educate readers about the way corporations deal with sexual harassment claims, how hard they can be to prove and how the system can be abused. From the start, Ritu’s default position is to doubt the accused. Namrata’s story can’t be true, she hasn’t given enough detail and maybe she’s misinterpreting friendliness.
As with many works of this sort, Chopra illustrates for the reader why women would hesitate to come forward. The activity could continue or worsen and the abuser may be on notice that he or she must be careful to not leave evidence. Ritu is a woman who, though she doubts Namrata’s claim, takes her job very seriously. We have a look at her home life. Ritu’s husband is gone a lot and she perhaps resents having been left all of the responsibility for the care of her daughter. The job occupies her mind constantly and her daughter calls her out of in perhaps inelegantly in an attempt to introduce the reader to her mom’s career. Ritu’s boss, Charles, tells us through the narrative that she hasn’t handled a claim of this sort before and he advises her throughout on each move. As Ritu gains experience she leaves the doubtful and perhaps accusing mindset of a layperson and becomes a true investigator looking at the claim from all angles.
The author invites us to look into more than one of the characters so that the reader has clarity into the situation early on. Where Chopra takes the story is what matters. The process the author shows to the reader that either shines a light on the justice or injustice of the process. She gives us a complex and in-depth look at the step-by-step and psychology of the event. The reader is left with the knowledge that the events of the novel happen every day to women and men in large corporations and small businesses.
Chopra’s writing style is very much the objective observer. She allows her characters to speak for her and to feel the anger, fear and doubts that one might naturally feel when such an accusation is made. Did anyone see? Are there others? A Painful Ordeal has a very direct and simple narrative. The liner style and simple plotting make the work accessible to a variety of readers. While A Painful Ordeal is seldom preachy Chopra illustrates the need to take every accusation seriously and to the necessity of treating both the accuser and accused with respect without judgment.
For some, A Painful Ordeal will be a new experience. It is not a stretch to say that our society is programmed to blame the victim. What was she wearing? Did she flirt when he talked to her? Did she have a drink at the holiday party? When they step forward they face a society of doubt. Some perhaps, step forward for their own reasons but what about those who don’t?
A Painful Ordeal is a very interesting read. Classified “Non-Resident Indian Fiction” it is perhaps a novel that every woman should read. Pick it up today.
If this sounds like a book for you, read an excerpt and buy A Painful Ordeal by Aditi Chopra on