By Nandini Krishnan
Title: The Pleasure Seekers
Author: Tishani Doshi
Price: Rs. 499
When a middle-aged man goes back "to the coils of his mother's womb" and turns to his wife's "breasts of wondrous light" within the first page, one's stomach is bound to flip. When this man's exploits occur in a chapter titled 'Departure and Depositories of Deceit', one is compelled to flip the book over, to see how many pages must be read before everyone else can be told why not to buy this book.
Tishani Doshi's The Pleasure Seekers is the story of an Indian man going abroad and falling in love with a Welsh woman, which morphs into the story of their seemingly nymphomaniac daughter getting knocked up a couple of times, before finding peace with a hijra who wants to be the father of her bastard child.
From the farewell at the airport, complete with garlands, photographs and a talisman, to the switchover Babo Patel makes - staunch Jain to beefeater - there is not a single cliche the author has missed out on.
Did we really need another book that deals with the phrase all of us have begun to dread in Indian writing - a quest for identity? If we hadn't read An American Brat, Brick Lane, The Namesake and all the other books women from the subcontinent have written on the same theme, we might have.
The problem is not so much the subject as the author's treatment of it. A story that is not fresh in itself requires something special that will capture the mind of the reader; the fluidity of language Vikram Seth possesses, the vividness of Salman Rushdie's imagination, the power of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's metaphor or the intricacy of Doris Lessing's writing.
Without a stylistic element to give the story a boost, it comes off sounding tired. Onomatopoeias such as jhimak-jhimaking, jhill-mill, dishoom-dishoom, ba-ba-ba boom, sha-bing, sha-bang don't help the cause; neither do sentences like "He could talk with her about the injustices of war, the necessity of revolutions, and she could turn them into something as light as a summer breeze moving through a luminous green paddy field."
The characters tend to be caricatures - the foreign wives who meet at the Madras Gymkhana Club, the bustling mother, the younger son who is penalised for his brother's rebelliousness, the moustached aunts, the grandmother who is older than wisdom, the rocker dude who turns out to be a cad...
While some show promise at the start - for instance, an aunt who refuses to be married off to the first available eligible bachelor and ties the knot at the grand old age of thirty - they are quickly resigned to minor roles to provide comic relief.
Others strike the reader as implausible. If a Gujarati woman who is more than a century old can accept that her great-granddaughter is going to be a single mom, why does her son turn out to be so narrow-minded he cannot reconcile himself to having a Welsh daughter-in-law? More importantly, why would a woman brought up in England in the 1960s find the idea of premarital sex horrifying, especially after indulging in it herself?
Venturing into magic realism requires a degree of literary maturity that the author clearly does not have. An old woman who can smell people from hundreds of kilometres away, and assigns a particular smell to each, does not cut it. It gets even more bizarre when she makes her daughter-in-law dance naked in the rain in an attempt to conceive a child, and asks her great granddaughter to skinny dip in the well to check whether her child will be born intact.
On a related subject, of all the euphemisms I have come across to describe parts of the human anatomy, 'Mr Whatsit' and 'Ms Sunshine' vie for top spot in the 'Distasteful' category.
The attempt to tie in the important occurrences in a family's life with national disasters by making the dates coincide seems rather contrived.
The book would have been all right if it had been classified as 'Chick Lit'. It is a light, easy read, has all the elements a teenaged reader might look for and doesn't require much cerebral exercise. This, of course, will require that the price of the book be docked down.
But if the writer wants to be taken seriously, she should spend more time working on her craft.
For now, one is left wondering what Salman Rushdie's endorsement is doing on the cover page.
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