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Monday, July 30, 2007

' A Suitable Boy' - Review

Well a book with 1474 pages might not be one's ideal idea of light read. When I picked up ' A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth from the nearby library, my idea was to read an Indian author's literary work . Another compelling fact was;the library being British I could not make out who 90% of authors were, I had never heard of them. With a bit of effort , I saw some familiar names like Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Jeffrey Archer, P G Woodehouse, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens to name a few.

I picked up Seth's book and just checked the outer cover to get a glimpse of the story. The story line in a nut shell went ' At the heart , this is essentially a love story , the story of Lata's and her mother's search for a suitable boy..and at the same time the story of a young and newly independent India' . It did appear interesting to me , but the length of the story and the small letters in the book were not an appealing sight. 'Anyways I am sitting at home, why dont I give it a try'- I just thought that and picked up the book.I also picked up 2 more books just in case this was boring.

Little did I knew I had brought home a book which went thru 3 renewals over a period of 9 weeks and an incredible reading experience that was to remain for a life time.
The other 2 books I was sure I could not read along with this one and hence I returned when the first renewal was due in 3 weeks.Sometimes 100 pages at a stretch, some times 10 - I was in a world of magic that Seth had woven so intricately. Ordinary places, ordinary people, ordinary situations , ordinary language -all blended in an extra ordinary piece of literature.

A story set in 1951 -1952 period when India was just independent in a fictional city called Brahmapur , the characters are so vivid, so unique , so real , sometimes I felt their pain, their happiness, their loneliness, their struggles.The language is very plain , no embellishments , so my vocabulary was not put to test each time I read a paragraph. I always believe that connecting with all kinds of audience is important and hence I think the flow of a literary work is more important than the language.Yes language is important, but there is no point having the Oxford dictionary in your book when there is no story.

The story, as the title suggests, is indeed the search for a suitable boy for Lata Mehra, one of the protagonists.Her widowed mother, Rupa Mehra who believes in lineage, caste and religion wants her to be married to a boy of her choice by hook or crook and hence thoroughly disapproves of Lata's affair with a Muslim Boy.The interesting fact is the story is not only Lata's but there is a gamut of characters, the whole of Mehra family of 2 brothers and 2 sisters with an imposing and utterly brash daughter in law and a simple and upright son in law, the Chatterjis, the Kapoors, the Khans, the courtesan Saeda bai, the socialist Rasheed - all characters important or not, big or small have a unique identity and characteristic behaviours. Never once did I confuse between any of the charcters.Its interesting to see how Seth fits the legendary Jawarhal Lal Nehru in the scheme of things.He does make his appearance in the book every now and then and I never felt odd about having a real life character along with other fictional characters.

Another fact that is laudable in the book is the painful recreation of the social, economic, political and cultutral backgrounds during that time. The Zamindari abolition act to give powers to tenant,Hindu Muslim conflicts, first general elections, state of Indian villages plagued with poverty, illiteracy, exploitation and ill treatment of women - all are real life accounts and left me thinking about the India today as we know it. I could relate to the humiliation of the chamars, the pathetic life of shoe makers, minority appeasements of Congress, politicians' hunger for power, women in burqa denied a life outside, caste system and it ills, people still raking in the glory of British rule and looking down on their fellow Indians - doesn't it persist still. Yes lot of things did change, but the spirit of modern India is non existent in many villages today also.I commend Seth's efforts for sticking to facts of the time where the story unfolds.They are very much accurate.

Also what I liked is the introduction to the 19 odd parts of the novel which is each a story in itself. Seth has used his poetic skills to describe each part in a couplet, which I found was good compared to the normal titles we have for parts.

But having said good about this book, I also have to warn about the infinite length that might be a hurdle in peaceful reading.I believe around 200-300 pages of the book could have easily done away with as it containd descriptions that neither help the narrative nor is relevant to the context.I did skip a few parts like the court room scenes on Zamindari bill. This was relevant, but so much of description was not required.The problem is you cant skip too much as you never know when the next character is introduced and hence have to be alert while reading. But I guess Indian authors tend to be descriptive , so this can be forgiven.

I finished reading the book on Friday and was happy to see Lata finally married off , but ever since I have been feeling a sense of loss.I got some other books, but not been able to get Seth's fictional city and its characters out of my mind. I wish this story could go on and on. The last novel which I thoroughly enjoyed was 'Da Vinci code' as it completely mesmerised me. But ' A suitable Boy' with so many different characters and so many different shades of life appeared to be a complete novel for me.

Agree or disagree with me , I thoroughly enjoyed reading ' A suitable Boy' as I could connect to the story and its characters who are painfully real. I think this reading experience is going to last a life time unless I get Amnesia. Period.


  • Wonderful..A very mature review. Vikram Seth, I suspect, will be mighty pleased to read this :)

    By Blogger Extremus Abnormalus, at 2:02 PM  

  • I havent read the book so cant comment. I did however pick up 'The Satanic Verses' inspired by much the same thought , but couldnt move beyond page one. ( That book lasted 2 renewals) :)

    By Blogger Sachin R K, at 7:45 AM  

  • Ditto with 'Midnights Children'. Was able to read only because I took it as a challenge! LOL.

    But seriously, I like you butt-kicking posts better :D

    By Blogger Paddy, at 5:47 PM  

  • @Babz - thanks ..:))

    @Sachin - I was tempted to pick up ' Shalimar the Clown' by Rushdie.Glad I did not.

    @Pads - I think I better steer away from Rushdie as I got two warnings now.Yes butt kicking is still on.But thought would take a break.

    By Blogger Chitra Shenoy, at 8:27 AM  

  • Wonderful review Chitra! I could make out a surrealist in reviewer :)

    By Blogger Hari, at 9:21 AM  

  • Hi,

    I have been searching for articles on the brave heroes who fought the Kargil war. The Indian Media seems to have forgotten them. Thank you for posting the article on Vikram Batra.

    By Blogger Ash, at 12:38 AM  

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