TTS Verdict: If you like to get lost in the reality of dreams and sensuality, this book is a must for you. If sex served on different platters annoys you, read the book – to see how it tastes differently. Every single time.
Available at: All leading bookstores and online retailers
Price: 250 INR
Publisher: Picador India (Paperback) / Harper Collins (India Edition)
Now, when V. S. Naipaul endorses a book and says, “At last, a new and brilliantly original novel from India,” you really want to pick the book up that very moment and start reading. But then, thoughts of your English teacher telling you that the book was nothing exceptional and could be termed as soft porn, come rushing back as well. Never mind that – once you pick the book up to judge for yourself whether it is worth Naipaul’s claims or just soft porn – begins the real game.
The story deals with a couple who’s so obsessively in love with each other, that at times it makes you wonder whether such love even exists at all nowadays. From the perspective of the male protagonist (who also happens to be the narrator), they also seem to be in love with another thing – sex. Tejpal comes off as a hormonally charged writer, with his constant references to sex and metaphorical comparisons of the same with everything ranging from office politics to failures. This also indicates the Indian male’s obsession with sex, either due to the lack of it or the constant hunt for it – everywhere and in everything. These often-made references generally result in well-told narratives, but at times fall short of them too, leaving open ends.
The novel gradually steps out of the initial obsessions with sex, the protagonists’ constant failures at writing several novels and his career in Delhi, and hits a parallel story in the form of the diaries of a woman named Catherine. She happens to be the previous owner of the house the couple acquire on a hill station. In this segment, Tejpal shifts from contemporary India towards the colonial era, involving Nawabs and Catherine’s adventures. It is here that the novel picks up pace, but story then finds its way back into the life of the couple, after Catherine’s mysterious death.
In parts, the novel seems to be bowing down to its own intentions, having dealt with many issues at one time. Beginning with the intricacies of contemporary India, the novel wanders into the colonial territory before indulging into issues related to meandering in the past. The latter part talks about the narrator’s urge to dig things up from the past, having to surface them against public moralities. Nevertheless, in many parts, the novel does seem to get slightly repetitive, while sustaining the many outstanding portions. This may be because of the abilities of the narrator to make affirmative statements – which also at times go wrong in their motive of closing perfect narratives.
The novel’s strong point is definitely the first half, dotted with splendid portions including certain conversations between the narrator and Fizz, some with the servant of the acquired house over chai and the descriptions of certain other minimal characters. The disentanglement of the marriage of the narrator and his wife, their sexual escapades and insecurities culminating into their understandings is remarkably well done. The second half picks up and unusually merges with the pace of the first half, much like a progression of sorts. This somehow sums up the opening lines, ‘Love is not the greatest glue between two people. Sex is,’ which later scrambled form the conclusive closing lines, ‘Sex is not the greatest glue between two people. Love…’
Whether the novel lives up to the claims of Naipual or gets termed as soft porn, is entirely subjective. However, it is undoubtedly an important first novel by one of India’s leading journalists and lives up, more or less, to its expectations. In addition, it is those loose ends and certain parts that lull, which hold the book back from being incomparable to other debuts. On a closing note, if you are a sucker for descriptive, fantasy-like and enticing writing, the book should catch your attention. If not anything else, the book will at least give you an insight into contemporary India as well as the colonial era, and help you brush up your knowledge of the country and its middle class moralities, ambitions et al.