11 March 2015

The Weight Loss Club

The Weight Loss Club
The Curious Experiments of Nancy Housing Cooperative
Author:  Devapriya Roy
Published in: 2013
Publisher: Rupa
Price: Rs 250

Devapriya Roy’s novel proves once again why books and literature continue to offer women the most satisfying expression to their lives.

After thoroughly enjoying her first book, ‘The Vague Woman’s Handbook’, I took up her second, ‘The Weight Loss Club’, with a certain assuredness in the young author’s talent. Also, since Devapriya Roy tends to draw a lot from her own personality and interests, which I relate to, I knew I was in for a good time. The author is a bibliophile and much of the things that happen in her fictional universe mirror her real-life passion for books.  Her lead characters have academic careers, revel in their intellectual pursuits, and have a singular love for books.  Like all book lovers who love leisure and have a special fondness for cafes, bakeries and tea time in general, Devapriya’s books abound in lush descriptions of food, which are guaranteed to make you head to the kitchen while reading the book.
Being a researcher herself, she has a curious mind, and many subjects find expression through the novel’s varied and interesting characters.

The novel has several strengths. For a woman of 30, and a lovely looking one at that, Devapriya has an enviable grasp on the workings and dynamics of human relationships. More importantly, she articulates these thoughts with linguistic grace and humour. Importantly, the book shows the courage to confront many intimate feelings that women tend to experience in their emotionally charged lives. Devapriya is particularly on surer territory when she’s talking about women. Her best creation in the book is the character of Monalisa Das, whose only description can be that she is the mother of two boys. Her mind is all at sea, as she plots and plans to see her sons succeed. All her energies are focussed on seeing her sons embark on a picture perfect career.  This desperation to not slip up and her refusal to let go is aptly reflected in her maniacal daily routine of cleaning and scrubbing her house till it sparkles. Devapriya, who is otherwise quite compassionate with her characters, reserves her most bitingly ironic commentary for hyperventilating mothers obsessing over their sons.

There’s not much here by way of plot. The setting is a housing society, teeming with a varied lot of inhabitants. Every household has its hitch. There is the inevitable scenario of the tipping-on-the-wrong side-of- marriageable-age daughter, Aparajita (Apu). Notwithstanding her Ph.D, her mother, Mrs Mukherjee is worried about Apu’s weight issues, and is determined to find her a worthy match. This is where the novel tackles the traditional Indian mindset versus the new, emerging attitude of the young.

The Sahai household typifies the traditional Indian joint family, with its high-handed mother-in-law and well-meaning but absentee husband.  Meera, the bahu, battling postpartum depression, is barely able to cope up with the mom-in-law, when the whole extended family descends on her.

Then there is Treeza, who cannot summon up any will to clean her house, cook or even take a bath. Her husband, John is worried about his wife’s state, while their maid, Anwara is struck by the sloth on display.  But you soon learn that Treeza is no Madame Bovari. This is one of the more intense tracks, and the author manages to treat it with sensitivity and insight.
The book is at its most interesting when the narration revolves around these stories. There are other characters and their stories as well, but not all are equally interesting. I found myself skipping pages too.  But what one finds interesting could depend on what one relates to at a certain point.

 There are several plot points within each story, which hold quite well, but the central plot line involves a modern-day guru Sandhya, who begins residing in the colony. Soon, she becomes privy to the problems of the inhabitants and heals them in her own unique way. Devapriya in her useful epilogue mentions how the Bhrahmacharini character was inspired by a book called ‘The Path of Practice’ by Maya Tiwari to which she keeps returning again and again to dip into its wisdom. There are other authors on healing and spirituality whom she mentions. The insight in ‘The Weight Loss Club’ no doubt gives it heft and purpose. However, the plot itself, involving the guru with a back story, does not seamlessly blend with the story. The track appears forced, and is also unduly long.

Yet, the novel is a delicious slice-of-life book with lush characterisation, setting and atmospherics. The book speaks beautifully to the modern Indian woman, bringing many untold emotions to the fore. Female bonding was the subject of Devapriya’s first book, and the theme runs through this one as well. In the author’s world, female friendships are not just supplementary, but essential and hugely rewarding.

In a character-driven book, the author’s biggest strength is her writing. Devoid of clichés or artifice, Devapriya masterfully brings scenes to life. Small, trivial things become interesting in her hands as she crafts a delightful crochet of ideas. Indulge by all means!