Ok, it’s official. I’m jumping onto the Anuja Chauhan bandwagon!
I’ve yet to read an author who captures modern middle-class India in as colourful, vibrant and typically Indian way as Miss Chauhan does. I have yet to see an author who celebrates Indian English the way she does! Our girl uses Hinglish (Hindi words sprinkled liberally with the English) unapologetically. Her characters’ obvious and literal translation of Hindi-thoughts into English-words, with nary a concern for grammar or the awkwardness produced by its lack of, is delightful.
As are the names of her characters: Rinku Chachi, Zahid Pathan, Jagpal Lohia, Pushkarni, Binni, Mamta Thakur. Chauhan’s evocation of entire personalities through clever naming of her characters is devious. Just reading the names, the characters spring up fully-formed in my head. Some of them are obvious spin-offs of famous personalities while others could have walked straight out of any Indian family.
Then there’s the way Miss Chauhan seems to have an ear for the way English is spoken in India (probably because of her long and illustrious career in advertising). Her prose in general, and her dialogues in specific, are really, really funny. Add to this her tongue-in-cheek and spot-on portrayal of things that make India and Indians tick (again, I suspect due to her long innings in advertising), and what you get is engrossingly laugh-out-loud funny reads.
And yes, she’s good enough at the niche she’s carved out for herself that I don’t particularly care about the lack of layered characterization in her stories. Or the absence of any incisive commentary on the subjects against which her stories unfold.
In The Zoya Factor the cricket crazy country of India begins to believe that Zoya, our heroine, is a lucky charm for the Indian cricket team. With the Cricket World Cup on the horizon no one is going to leave Zoya alone. And so our hapless heroine is catapulted from being a lowly advertising personnel to hobnobbing with the demi-gods of the Indian subcontinent: the Indian cricket team. Enter the captain of the team. Young, smoldering, and the face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, he has no patience for Zoya, or the superstitious bollywaggle that is left in her wake (yeah, I just made that up).
Then there’s the crafty IBCC (Indian Board of Cricket Council) president Jogpal Lohia whose motives for “hiring” Zoya are not as selfless as would appear. This mad concoction of superstitions, cricket, cola (who did you think was paying for all that advertising?) and romance can give any Hindi film a run for its money (in fact I am surprised that Bollywood hasn’t jumped at the chance to turn this into a movie). Also appearing is a five-year old whose favourite verse goes something like this:
Joy to the world!
The teacher’s dead
We scissored off her head!
What happened to her body
We flushed it down the po-tty
And round and round it goes . . . and round it goes . . .
And round and round and round it goes . . .
-sung to the tune of Joy to the World of course.
The second Anuja Chauhan that I read is Those Pricey Thakur Girls (she’s published four books in total with the latest, The House That BJ Built, being out just a couple of weeks ago. Also, can I just say how much I love Inter-Library Loan? I was able to get my hands on both these books thanks to ILLs)!
Those Pricey Thakur Girls is a tale about mostly two of the five sisters who are named alphabetically, and who live in a sprawling bungalow on Delhi’s posh Hailey Road. Set in the 1980s, this one uses the Sikh riots as a backdrop for a budding romance between Debjani (or Dabbu as she is known) who’s a news reader, and Dylan Singh Shekawat, a zealous journalist who also happens to be a Christian-Rajput. There’s a slightly more measured feel to this book than The Zoya Factor but it is in no way any less of a romp.
I have to say that I found myself liking Dylan Singh Shekawat much more than I liked the Indian captain of The Zoya Factor. (Take his name: such a solid, reliable, fantasies-inducing, swoon-worthy name it is, doncha agree?) Then again it might be that I liked him more because we get scenes from his POV in Those Pricey Thakur Girls while the captain in The Zoya Factor remains broodingly aloof. Those Pricey Girls’ heroine, Debjani, is also thankfully, less of a twit than Zoya (sorry Zoya, much as I enjoyed your distinctive voice in The Zoya Factor there were times when I found myself wondering if you had any brains left inside that pretty head of yours).
My favourite characters however, from the motley crew that makes up Those Pricey Thakur Girls, have to be Eshwari, the youngest of the Thakur sisters, and Satish. These two are classmates in 12th standard at Modern School, Barakhamba Road, and are good friends. The scenes between them are funny, heart-rending and capture the reality of what being 16 & 17 feels like. Satish’s attempts at wooing Eshwari are bumbling in a way that only a teenager’s wooing can be. A friends to potential lovers story I can’t wait to read more about them in the next book, The House That BJ Built.
I’ll end with a bit that captures Anuja Chauhan at her best. It’s from The Zoya Factor:
I obsess a little about being ‘cool,’ because, hello, when people ask me where I stay I have to look them in the eye, smile brightly and say ‘Karol Bagh’ with casual unconcern. Which is agony in advertising because when all the snooty ad people think Karol-Bagh type, they imagine a pushy wannabe in a chamkeela salwar-kameez with everything matching-matching. Someone who says ‘anyways’ instead of anyway, ‘grands’ instead of grand and ‘butts’ instead of butt. (As in she has no butts, earns 20 grands a month and lives in Karol Bagh. Who does she think she is, anyways?)
Of course they don’t know anything. They have no clue that the fancy south Delhi movie halls where they all throng to see the latest Hollywood films are owned by an enterprising Karol Bagh boy who lives down my road, still, even though he now owns houses all over Delhi, including one in Golf Links, the poshest quarter in the capital.
Because Karol Bagh has Soul.
It may be a loud, expansive, dhik-chik dhik-chik music-loving soul that died and became a soul because its arteries clogged with too much high-cloestrol, ghee-laden Punjabi food, but it’s a soul nonetheless.
P.S. My husband would like me to add that I LOLed so much during the reading of these two books that he was enticed into reading Those Pricey Thakur Girls. He quite enjoyed it.