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Of Soap and Fiction


Anuradha Marwah

AFTERTASTE
By Namita Devidayal
Random House, Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 292, Rs. 399.00

SEJ PAR SANSKRIT
By Madhu Kankaria
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 228, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 2 Febuary 2011

Sej par Sanskrit is the story of a traditional JainMarwari family. Traditional business class families have been represented in Hindi fiction beforePrabha Khaitan and Alka Saraogis work comes to mind at oncebut my interest in this particular novel was doubly heightened as I had just finished reading Namita Devidayals Aftertaste that has a business family setting too. Reading upcoming writers, Devidayal and Kankaria, side by side I thought, might provide an interesting study of how two relatively younger women explore traditional business settings in English and Hindi respectively. The study, might also enable me to touch upon the modes of production of Indian womens fiction with reference to the difference between the global language and the national/regional language markets as they are evolving in India. Tantalizingly enough, the back cover blurb of Aftertaste attempts to bridge the gap between Hindi and English spheres by designating the novel a riveting family soap opera that is upmarket Shobhaa De and Ekta Kapoor; whereas Sej par Sanskrit is positioned as serious fiction by the publisher, intended for those readers who are interested in exploring prevalent gender injustice and socioeconomic disparities. Devidayals critically acclaimed first book, creative nonfiction The Music Room, to my mind, introduced a rare writer of disarmingly straightforward prose and keen bilingual sensibility, whowhile interweaving the fantastic myths and legends of Hindustani classical music with the tender story of gurushishya relationship between two womenhad skilfully managed to avoid the lushness of imagery and language that so often obfuscates the subject matter in Indian English writing. Disappointingly, in Aftertaste the simplicity and compassion one had so admired in Devidayals first book seem to have dried up in her overdoing a novel about the mithai business. The newly expansive writer tries a mix of homely and exotic flavours, social realism and Rushdiesque food imagery,but the story comes out a confused mishmash: Mummyji, an uncannily successful entrepreneur, wreaks havoc on her family and the reverse clich the writer employs only serves to offset the global stereotype of the essentially spiritual Indian by building up a diametric opposite: For at heart of a good Indian family lies money, not love, pontificates the introduction to the novel on the fuschia back cover of the book and similar generalizations about India and Indian families recur in the text. Why this talented writer of nonfiction should assume a different tone for fiction kept haunting my mind. ...


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