Last weekend I overdosed on urban India. I read three books and saw one movie that featured my India.
I haven’t read chick lit since Bridget Jones. Now suddenly, there's a rash of books written by smart women who are inspired by the mundane (to all the award-winning female writers before them) city slicker experiences we grew up with.
Believe it or not: Gurgaon inspires! Rajeev Dabral / Mint
Unlike, say, in Kiran Desai's Booker- winning 2006 release The Inheritance of Loss, there is no sweeping real India plot where a young woman falls in love with a Nepali tutor in a crumbling house set against the forever sexy Himalayas. Religion and Maoists are irrelevant in the new ‘I, me, myself’ books and movies that are inspired firmly by the 144.8 million urban Indians aged between 18 and 40 (IRS).
Take the first line of Swati Kaushal’s A Girl Like Me: “New Delhi. It has changed since I saw it last. It has thickened, blackened, erupted like a pollinating pod.” The book is set in Gurgaon.
Personal angst, hot men, the rat race and evil bosses are the new themes. If anyone is excluded, it’s the so-saleable “real” India that the world has come to expect from our diaspora writers.
The new girlie authors are mostly first-timers who grew up with Google and P3P. As Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan said in a recent interview: “When I was 16-17, there were no books about people like us. The Indian books were all about villages.”
In Madhavan’s book You Are Here, 25-year-old Arshi parties at popular Delhi hot spots Elevate and Shalom, buys Durex Super Thins with her date, is told not to dress “phoren” when she’s scheduled to meet a potential landlord and enjoys peering into a fridge stocked with Gatorade and Hershey’s chocolate syrup.
Of course, our India is mostly boring and self-centred. As Arshi hops from man to man, it’s difficult to tell them apart and by the time you’re halfway through the book you don’t really care who ends up with whom. Yet Arshi’s reality is important because it’s the reality of the thus far underrepresented fataafat generation.
Good chick lit works only if you can feel the sexual tension. If you can empathize with that delicious single-person angst (and, as far as women are concerned, age or marital status is no bar here. My mother loves good chick lit).
Anuja Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor manages to do just that. Chauhan’s book — though HarperCollins’ marketing was no match for Penguin’s mega blitz for You Are Here — works much better probably because she has a greater width of urban life experiences to pick from. She was born in Meerut, has three sisters (and three children), and has worked with the film industry and the cricket team in her 14 years in advertising. So, you’re right there with the rajma-pasta loving Zoya when she encounters a man who has eyes the “exact chunky brown colour of Boost powder with Advanced Energy Boosters”.
The master of recording the hip urban phenomenon, though, is still Farhan Akhtar. If Dil Chahta Hai was Akhtar’s coming-of-age film, Rock On!! is big city confidence personified. Akhtar’s not worried about whether audiences will identify with his India. It’s his and he wants to share it.
PS: Now that I’ve researched people like us, I’m going back to subtitled films/fiction by older men who were born in Newark or its vicinity.
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