Quick Lit | Amrita Gupta
A roller-coaster romance
Strike@36 begins on a delirious note: in Shobhna Ramakrishnan’s dream. Outside, there’s a protesting mob; inside, a giggling midget and a best friend making a lascivious proposition in a feather boa. Fortunately, she wakes up before her trance-self commits to anything she might regret. The downside, however, is that the events in the ensuing pages (which, by the way, deal with a fully conscious protagonist) seem no less hallucinatory.
Aparna Pednekar’s debut novel flits between two perspectives, that of the near-manic wannabe screenwriter Shobhna (Sho), and her level-headed, if slightly one-dimensional, former lover Udayan Joshi (Uday), whom we meet on a transcontinental flight on his way back to Mumbai. Uday has been summoned by Sho on some calamitous pretext—we are strung along trying to make sense of it for a good 50 pages. The bizarre scheme revolves around a film script so dazzling that Sho abandons her own plodding magnum opus and goes to risky lengths to promote it.
Cue barbiturate-spiked jujubes, brawls at roadside eateries, encounters with the MuPo (Mumbai police) and the MaMi (Maharashtra Mitra; a saffron-minded political party that’s a thinly veiled reference to the Shiv Sena). The additional ingredients are a cast of barely sketched out characters, from a perpetually tweeting teenager to the brooding Marathi manoos who has written the potential blockbuster script.
The bewildered reader is filled in on most important details too late, and only in the most cavalier, slapdash manner—perhaps this is Pednekar’s attempt at building up suspense before the big revelations, but keeping things so cryptic only ends up annoying the reader. Several references to a Roja, for instance, seem to indicate that this is Sho’s daughter. Turns out, she’s a Great Dane. Strike one.
Interspersed are chapters that function as flashback sequences, because “all great incomplete love stories are best narrated in third person”. Here, we get taken on a roller-coaster recap of Sho and Uday’s tumultuous relationship, several paragraphs of which read like a particularly cheesy M&B. Sho “melted like golden butter under the intense heat” of Uday’s masculinity, and “they came together like chocolate and champagne”. Little wonder then that the reader is unlikely to care if their present-day sparring rekindles the ardour.
The dialogue in Strike@36 slaloms, rife with non-sequiturs and too-witty repartee. However, the reader encounters snatches of Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, even French. T’chaila, there are no translations; so you’re out of luck if you aren’t multilingual. The thoughts, unsaid, sparkle with sass too. Pednekar certainly has an easy, breezy style that ensures this is a quick read. It isn’t, however, an altogether enjoyable one.
The novel hurtles along, paying little heed to securing loopholes in the ambitious plot. If this were a script for a movie, it’d amount to a forgettable masala flick. The dizzying twists and turns, conspiracies and counter strikes culminate in a wholly rushed climax, a race that will leave readers tired, mostly because they’ve had to bear the weight of their own disbelief.