Author: Namita Gokhale
This is the first book I took up to review by Namita Gokhale, better recogonised as the co-director of the highly popular Jaipur lit fest. She's written 10 books already - which I had no idea about.
You see the book’s inane title and cover design and wonder if the rest of the book is going to be as unimaginative. Its tag line below further reads -'In Incredible Indyaa' - an obvious smart-alecky attempt taking a dig at the socialite obsession with numerology. The author tries hard to satarise a certain class of people with their pretentions and superficial airs -the irony though is that the novel itself feels impossibly artificial and snooty.
The characters are not fleshed out and come across as obnoxious caricatures. Also, the author's own personality seems to pervade heavily on the way these people speak. The result is not pleasant. The men don't sound like men. For example, the 45 something protagonist’s teenager son speaks dialogues such as these, “ Honest! That’s what her feminist-sheminist mother said. And her father got really upset, he even tried phoning Pitaji. He didn’t get through - all the PAs and secretaries saw to that. And then I sort of surrendered, and agreed to marry Monalisa. Her parents got uber excited. I think they had dreams of Band Baja Ghodi and Disco Bhangra and all that! Or Some Bengali fancy-dress tamasha”
Gokhale's latest is a sequel of sorts to the her earlier novel titled Paro, about a free-spirited, promiscuous woman. Priya has a presence in that book too. She is the more timid, staid one. She grows up as a middle-class girl in Mumbai, marries Suresh Kaushal, who in an unexpected windfall turns into a successful minister at the centre. This change in fortune is quite sudden and Priya’s lifestyle transforms overnight. She suddenly finds herself in the midst of political and Page 3 glitterati and has new 'challenges' to face every day.
She has twin sons, Luv and Kush. Luv is more artistically inclined while Kush is the more pragmatic one with aspirations of following his father’s political footsteps.
But these characters are etched with no subtlety at all. What should have been conveyed in the narration with crafty irony is done blatantly with tasteless dialogues. For example, the author wants to assert Kush’s clinical approach to things. So when he gets a marriage proposal he meets the girl and discusses her on the breakfast table next day with his parents. He announces,“I’ve assessed the Sethia chick...It’s like a merger or an amalgamation. One has to study the fundamentals."
This is plain nasty writing and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone talking like that. The approach may be a reflection of Delhi’s opportunistic and mercenary culture, but the dialogues do the narration in completely.
You have the husband Suresh having extra-marital affairs. Priya herself has an old flame whom she goes gallivanting with. There’s a Page 3 social climber type thrown in who talks about Botox and refers to Priya as Mrs Menopause. There is a ridiculous story about Luv and his love entanglements. Then just like that Kush turns out to be gay as well, and Priya is most sanguine about it. All this is laughably amateurish.
The novel's narration is in Priya's voice, but her character never really emerges in any sense. You never enter her head. Also, there are too many purple patches with needless adjectives thrown in. The author has the annoying habit of inserting all kind of Hindi words like ajeeb and adla badla as well. There's only one time when I thought a Hindi expression is well-used. 'Yaari-type hug' - I thought that captures a scene in an instant.
However, the entire book has a vein of artificiality running through it with shrill coincidences and poor plot-construct and characterisation.
The book has a few lines that are well written here and there - somewhere Suresh talks about India being a serpent with its hood being in the 21st century and tail still being in the dark ages. Also, some of the author's comments on Delhi's opportunistic culture and its obsession for private shorthand is interesting. The book is ambitious to the extent that Gokhale tries to etch out a novel driven entirely by atmospherics. Unfortunately, she's not upto the task.