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Home / Books / Pretty vacant

Pretty vacant

The Pleasure Seekers. A fluffy narrative and a slew of metaphors make this novel too lush for comfort.

books Updated: Sep 03, 2010 23:46 IST
Soumitro Das
Soumitro Das
Hindustan Times

The Pleasure Seekers
Tishani Doshi
Bloomsbury n R499 n pp 320

This is a queerish kind of book whose point is not too clear. It chooses to invest heavily in lyricism, a kind of poetry of contradictions that never states the real cause of things. Take this passage towards the end of the book: “[Ba] told Bean you could never be afraid of your own blood; that you could have a yearning for someone long after they’d disappeared from your life, but you could also yearn for them before they were born: Javier her unborn child.

Ba told her to recognise these two worlds as one; to be easy and light so when the moment came you’d be ready to plunge. You wouldn’t have to go stooping around the edge with no fizz fizz in your step.” I am not sure that this kind of blather works in a novel.

This is not even magic realism. This is the story of Babo, a Gujarati boy from what used to be Madras, his Welsh wife Sian, his two daughters Mayuri and Beena a.k.a. Bean, his parents Prem Kumar and Trishala and his grandmother Ba, who lives in a village in Gujarat and can smell people and events over great distances.

I think one of the problems why narrative appears fluffy and weak is that the novel exists in a kind of historical vacuum. Author Tishani Doshi tries, at times desperately, to fill this vacuum by piling metaphor upon paradoxical metaphor. But you are still left feeling that the meaning of things is not clear.

It is not as if dates are not mentioned. But the mentioning of dates only goes to emphasise the impermeability of the family to any kind of overarching historical logic. The 1971 war in Bangladesh is described as India and Pakistan throwing bombs at each other; the 1984 Sikh riots are described as a descent into insanity. The descriptions aren’t inaccurate per se, but they’re also trivial.

Babo, the Jain boy from Madras, goes to a London polytechnic. His time there is spent grappling with problems like looking for decent accommodation and doing justice to a job that his parents from Madras have procured for him in advance. There is no awareness of what it means for a Jain from Madras to be in London. Vegetarianism should have been a problem. But it’s not. Instead, within seven months Babo falls in love with a Welsh girl and is introduced straightaway to meat and alcohol without any problems.

There is no self-questioning, no dilemma, no interrogation of the larger historical context in which the individual finds himself. The only character in this novel who has the solidity of rootedness is Ba, the matriarch of the family. Her house is where Bean goes to with her unborn child. In the end, tradition triumphs and the Indian family, cocooned by what Doshi calls ‘love’, comes through intact. Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer.

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