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A musty read

Shailaja Bajpai isn't bothered by the latest literary trends. Which may go a long way to explain the old-fashionedness of her novel, Three Parts Desire.

books Updated: Aug 05, 2011 23:44 IST
Ishan Chaudhuri

Three Parts Desire
Shailaja Bajpai
Harper Collins
Rs 399 PP 410

Shailaja Bajpai isn't bothered by the latest literary trends. Which may go a long way to explain the old-fashionedness of her novel, Three Parts Desire. The book traverses things that readers of Indian fiction in English once had no choice but to read: a trans-generational saga with a mandatory generational gap thrown in; love and ardour in the 70s; diasporic jumps in time and space and domestic drama's insights into a society in transition.

The novel starts in Delhi with the couple Kartik and Baby negotiating with a shop assistant and his erection. Instead of letting the scene play itself, Bajpai makes her character comment, "The Indian male is a raw ... egg: firm on the outside, pil-pilla inside." Then we are back in 1976 when the two were young lovers negotiating with autodrivers and, well, with back-and forths in time, 1970s Delhi.

At the centre is Didi, Baby's mother, a sort of Nayantara Sehgal-meets-Madame Blavatsky figure, whose ur-story goes back to a 1956 New York-Delhi flight that would lead to her doomed life with her husband-to-be Purush. Unsurprising vignettes, that include the consequences of an aborted affair with an American highlighting a clash of cultures, follow.

The reader slips in and out of decades with Didi and Baby as the two extremities of a compass needle. Bajpai's novel, longer than it should have been, may hold second-hand nostalgia for many readers, but it fails to provide anything fresh in a genre that itself is mothballed with old sweaters.