Book Review: One and a Half Wife

While the Indian author community is hell bent on churning out meaning-less love stories that can be seen all around you, here is one new author who begs to differ. Meghna Pant, a financial journalist by day and an author by night, picks up a wonderful story to tell as a debut novel. One and a Half Wife is like a dab of fresh air and carves a different niche for itself among the collage of zillions of books by Indian authors these days. The back cover of the book states the story of Amara Malhotra who immigrates to America to achieve the Great American Dream but leads quite an unremarkable life until she marries a Harvard educated millionaire, Prashant Roy. However, that is far from a fairytale ending and her marriage crumbles. After which she is caught between two worlds of obedience towards her parents and new friends who encourage her to move on.

The Plot:
The story begins in Shimla in 1991 when 14 year old Amara Malhotra is taken by her mother, Biji, to several fortune-tellers around town to foretell her fate. The prophecy of a fortune telling parrot says that she will be a One and a half wife some day. Biji, a conventional Indian mother, refuses to believe in fortune tellers who predict bad fate of her child and keeps her hope alive to get the Green Card (American Citizenship) for which her brother (Dua Mama) had applied in the US. The lives of Amara, Biji and Baba (Amara’s father) change gears as they get their Green Cards and head to the USA. The Malhotra family cracks the kernel of the ‘dreamland’ called America to find out the shady insides of prejudices and divides among the Indian-American community, much to their astonishment. As the Malhotra family struggle to cope with their new alien abode, Amara is almost ostracized as an outcast among the American schools which follow a very different culture than what she had grown up in.

While Amara’s Dua Mama was supposed to be a rich Godfather for the Malhotra family, opportunity comes knocking on Amara’s doors when a Harvard-educated-millionaire-Prashant-Roy’s mother selects Amara to be the bride for her only son over Dua Mama’s American bred high-class daughters. Much to Biji’s delight, her purpose of seeing Amara settled in America finally becomes true. But life is not that easy for Amara. As she battles a hollow marriage, her parents struggle to sustain after being rendered penniless due to the high cost of marrying-off their daughter. Amara’s Amercian dream is shattered after six long years of a failed marriage and her parents fail to resign themselves to the fact and fate of their daughter.

Much to the family’s horror, they are socially ostracized by Amara’s divorce and the Malhotra family returns to Shimla after sixteen long years in the US only to find how much India has changed and developed both in in face and facets. Divorced women, still, as they find out are not as welcome here and Amara has to deal with angry parents, goons of the local moral police and battle societal norms as she finds her dignity and rightful place in the end.

The Verdict:
Meghna Pant chooses a very bold topic for her first novel and makes sure that she treats the subject with the required delicacy. The novel, is less of a story and more of a journey that the author takes you along with Amara. On several occasions, one can relate with one of the many characters or their lives in the story at many different levels at that. You cannot help but develop a relationship with Amara and Biji right at the beginning of the story and feel the connection grow stronger as you feel closer to the character with every leaf you turn. The novel takes you to a roller coaster ride into Amara’s life and her relationships and you can’t help but feel sympathy with the unfairness of life with her. Even the little subplots and characters have stories that you can’t help but feel is something that you have heard somewhere. All in all the book is a fantastic reflection of reality and many of its unspoken problems.

The two lead characters of Amara and Biji have been defined with utmost care and a solid foundation is built into the minds of the reader. Every emotion and every situation is aptly acted upon by both Biji and Amara, given the kind of people they are. Although Baba, has a silent, but very strong presence throughout. When the characters act the way you would had you been in their shoes, you know that you are staring not into the words of a book but into the naked face of reality. Frankly Speaking, One and a Half Wife is by far one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Kudos to Meghna Pant and congratulations to her on having written such a wonderful story. What should be said has been said, what’s unsaid, dawns on you slowly but surely.

My Rating: 4.5/5 and a very strong word of recommendation. Order it now, you’ll not regret it. Miss it and believe me, you’re missing an unknown face of life.

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Book Review: Revolution 2020

Chetan Bhagat and his new novel Revolution 2020

Chetan Bhagat’s latest release, Revolution 2020 has hit the stands and it’s doing quite well. Why wouldn’t it? After all he’s India’s largest selling novelist of all time perhaps. Famous for being a ‘youth writer,’ Bhagat’s earlier books have either all been adapted into movies or are on their way to be. In the midst of all this, Bhagat manages to come up, once again with a very interesting four hour read.

As seen in all his previous books, a 20 something, middle class background, struggling engineering student, like me, relates very well. So much so that the first half of the book felt like I was reading my own biography. Jokes apart, Bhagat beautifully depicts the agony of a mediocre AIEEE ranker who is too good a guy to be the boyfriend of a girl who he has clearly been dating for seven years. Revolution 2020 is a story of two guys and a girl, a clichéd masala bollywood love triangle with a very unusual end, for a change.

Set in Varanasi, Gopal, a sincere small town boy from a very humble background, narrates his story. A story about love, deceit, corruption, success and sacrifice. Aarti, the girl who Gopal is best friends with since primary school and the girl he loves, is portrayed as a confused, beautiful girl who turns Gopal down because she has never thought of Gopal in ‘that way’ and wants to be just friends, yet she somehow manages to become Raghav’s girlfriend out of the blue. Bhagat, trough Aarti, unfortunately fails to portray women any differently than he has done before. For someone like me, who has read all his books before, reading Revolution 2020 wasn’t like reading anything new. Raghav, Gopal’s friend Aarti’s boyfriend is a JEE ranker (unlike Gopal), studying in the prestigious BHU and wanting to be a journalist some day. The story revolves around the two guys differentiating between the two at different stages of life.

While Bhagat strums the right chords with the protagonist Gopal (or I would rather just call him the narrator as no one is really good or bad here), at the same time, he fails to develop the character of Raghav, who only remains the other guy in Aarti’s life. The relationship between Gopal and Aarti is depicted beautifully over a span of 7 years from cover to cover. I could feel myself mumbling under my breath at several occasions. Gopal’s journey, from a pauper to a prince or from a guy who couldn’t secure an engineering seat to a businessman who opens his own engineering college is magnetic as he accepts the political and bureaucratic system, while that of Raghav, as a struggling journalist, fighting the same system, comes across as an under-written mystery. Aarti is as confused as all female characters have been in his previous books have been and after a certain point into the book, you stop hating Aarti and start hating Bhagat for being a chauvinist. [Yes my friends it comes from me who himself is blamed of being a misogynist many a times.]

Though the name Revolution 2020 comes from Raghav’s newspaper in the book with the same name, Bhagat fails to justify the title of his book. The unexpected ending to the story is less of an open ended reality of life and more of an unfinished tale. Read it because it’s cheap and costs less than three figures but do not expect to be pleasantly surprised.

My Rating: 3/5

Frankly Speaking, I was generous with that and I would also like to give a word of advice to Chetan Bhagat: MOVE OVER IIT AND AIEEE! That might be the biggest event in your life, but life is more to that and with your fifth book at least, we expect you to give us a novel (and not a screenplay.)

The Break Up

Hello again!! Guys, I know almost all of you might have seen or gone through a break-up (I’m sorry for those in the second category) but I must say some break-ups are rather interesting, of course if you’re neither of the involved party; or for guys if the girl is cute. Well, your humble friend, here, got lucky and what I witnessed, or must I say eye-witnessed was the world’s most dramatic, ear-drum rupturing, glass-shattering, go-fuck-yourself-you-lying-asshole break-up. Phew..!! I guess that’s enough to give you guys a hint of where I’m getting at.

So here’s the story.

Chapter 1: The Couple

First things first, how I got to know the couple. The couple used to come to same gym as I, and we used to meet everyday. Not that I was a friend of either of them, and the only conversation we used to have was the occasional nod or a passing smile that made my day, of course I’m talking about the girl in question. Now, this guy, I don’t remember his name, well to be honest I never even cared to know what it might be. And the girl. Ahem! Well she’s cute, quite so. A few extra pounds, very delicate, probably extremely pampered by both this guy and perhaps her parents too. (Sorry, couldn’t help judging, it just shows on her face.) Pallavi….that’s her name, yeah. Okay! Pallavi is a typical south Delhi-bred-DPS(VK)-spoiled-OMG-its-so-hot-here kinda girl. Though I’d seen the guy in the gym before too, but he’d been coming with Palavi since the past three weeks or so. The guy, though well endowed with frightening biceps, was totally, in word, Pallavi’s bitch. He used to follow her tail, wait till the tread-mill next to hers was vacated, get her water bottle, even wipe her face with a towel. The guy, man I still can’t remember his name, was like a Duracell operated rabbit, who was instructed perhaps only to act at Pallavi’s accord. The couple never seemed to shy away from their PDA and were hottest topic of the gym grape-wine. From trainers to the people working out in the gym, the couple was greeted with a friendly smile followed by a mocking smirk. The guy used to even drop her off to her place, which was merely two blocks away from the gym, and how I know that, well I’ll get to that later.

Chapter 2: The Big Bang

Now what started the fight between the couple isn’t very clear to me, but I’m sure it was enough to end this sugar-coated, gold-plated relationship. Now when I reached the open area of the gym, used generally for weights, floor exercises and a twisting exercise with a bamboo staff  held at the back of your neck (apparently that’s my instructor’s personal favourite), the ‘discussion’ was already on. Pallavi was doing the same exercise as I just described and the guy was sitting on a bench with lots of dumb-bells around him. (Pun intended) Now as always, I was finding it difficult do any of the instructed exercises and I was merely waiting for my hour to end, when suddenly the Lord of Excitement showed His grace and I heard the golden words, “Can you shut up for like 10 minutes Abhay! I’m seriously not interested…..” Yes! That’s his name. Abhay. I sometimes amaze myself at how attentive I am when girls speak. Anyway, back to the story. Pallavi’s voice brought me back to life from the semi-limbo state that I was in. Gushes of energy ran towards my limbs and for the first time after having been a regular at the gym for about a month, sweat broke on my forehead. Energized, as I was now, I got a whole new reason to stick around. I too picked up a bamboo stick and started doing the same weird exercise as Pallavi, wondering if even I would get a chance to fling the stick into someone’s head someday. My ears, though, were magnetically fixed on the conversation going on merely five feet to my right. Abhay, donning the most innocent face that he could have made, was trying, in vain, to explain why he’d said that he was unwell and he couldn’t go to the movies with her, when someone (Sorry, I’m bad at remembering names) spotted him at a very posh mall with a beer in his hand, sitting with Sakshi. Well I know Sakshi because she used to come to the same gym too. But that was ‘before’ Pallavi joined, mind you. Abhay’s explanation, not that it mattered (to me and also perhaps to Pallavi looking at how angry she was), was that he was ‘really’ not well, but he had to go out because Sakshi was leaving for Sates the same night, for an year. I wonder why she wasn’t busy packing then! Pallavi, who is exceptionally fair usually, was now looking pink, matching the colour of her shoes and contrasting her dark purple socks. Pallavi’s answer made me fear a confrontation with a woman more than ever because her answer was actually a question that why, if he was ill, did he have to come to the gym then. Wasn’t lunch and drinks with Sakshi enough to exert him more than required for someone ‘under the weather?’

Abhay, as always, followed Pallavi’s cue and turned a slightly darker shade of pink, though the reason was probably similar to mine and add to that the obligation of having to give an answer. Word’s failed him and what I thought was sweat on his cheeks suddenly looked like saline from a different source. All he could manage was a mumble, too low for me to hear, but enough for me to know that it was a stupid answer as Pallavi reply was, “I feel like hitting you with this stick itself.” Unlike Abhay, she was loud, loud enough ring a few bells in my ears and make me realise that I was doing nothing more than holding the stick and staring at them rather than trying to conceal my interest in my exercise. Just then an Uncle walked into our area and asked Abhay if he was using the dumbbells. He could have answered the question had Pallavi not stormed out of the gym and Abhay, now as you must have guessed, followed her, leaving his towel behind. Looking at the situation, I thought a towel was probably the one thing Abhay needed the most that day, other than probably some colour for his face, which had turned pale by now. And thus, was I deprived of more action.

Chapter 3: The Dark Knight

That’s not the end, definitely no. Not without the ‘other guy’ making an entry into the story. So I was rejoined by them in the abs section, where Pallavi was actually working out while all Abhay was doing standing and staring…. then one frosty-nose look from Pallavi brought Abhay back to life, and he landed up on a ab-training machine. Maybe he thought increasing the weights might impress or atleast soften Pallavi a little, but I’m sure she couldn’t have been more ignorant. And then, as the two were about to leave the ab-section, Abhay, God only knows why, decided to pick up Pallavi’s phone. With the glint of an arrow and the speed of an eagle, Pallavi, in one swift movement grabbed the phone and the blood from his face, giving it again the pale palor that it was getting used to by now. Another exchange of whispers and stern looks couldn’t be heard by me as I prepared to leave the gym. Surprisingly enough, the story was far from over, and I was destined to get luckier, as while I was waiting for someone to pick me up, when Pallavi showed up from behind asked me for a lift. She had apparently seen me around and knew that her place would be on the way back. I was happily awed, and fate spoke for me just as my dad’s car, (chauffeur driven, yeay for that day), pulled up. Chivalrous as I am, I opened the door for her, more to flaunt to an awestruck Abhay watching from a little distance, than as a courtesy. Finally, for the first time in my life, I was the other guy!! That really made my day, and the 3 minute distance to her place wasn’t enough for much talking, but Abhay and Pallavi have not been gymming together since. That my friends was probably the end of it. I think I’ve said enough already, don’t think of me as a sadist laughing at other people’s misery, but boredom can make the most unusual of things interesting.

Adios!

Yours Truly.