Daily Archives: August 23, 2010

Book Launch: ‘Aftertaste’ by Namita Devidayal

The Hindu

It’s about food, family, money, mithai and manipulation… Namita Devidayal’s second novel, “Aftertaste”, the deliciously wicked saga of a Baniya family, is very different from her much-acclaimed debut novel “The Music Room”, set in the stately world of Hindustani classical music.

And not everyone is happy about that.

“It’s a problem in our country with slotting — either you’re a ‘serious writer’ writing about classical music, or you’re a ‘light writer’ in the mould of Chetan Bhagat,” she said at the launch of “Aftertaste” in Landmark recently. “Now people expect me to write another book on the classical arts, but I just wanted to have fun with this book, and wanted readers to have fun as well.”

“Aftertaste” takes you into the fascinating world of the Marwari business community, where money is king. “This is a unique world one has no access to, a world where the currency of all emotion and exchange is money,” said Namita, a Mumbai-based journalist. “To me it’s as amazing as the world of Indian classical music.”

It tells the story of the dysfunctional Todarmal family, owners of a successful mithai shop in Mumbai’s Kalbadevi district, its formidable matriarch Mummyji, her emasculated sons, conniving daughters and their resentful spouses.

“Mummyji is based on a lot of grandmothers in the community, semi-destructive towards her own children without meaning to be,” she said, in conversation with Ranvir Shah. “One of the themes I wanted to explore is how Indian families can be both nurturing and destructive, and yet, they’re the place of last resort, where we turn to for support.”

Unlike “The Music Room”, which was semi-autobiographical, “Aftertaste” is all fiction, though Namita did get some help from family and others in the community. “I’ve drawn on anecdotes from many extended Baniya uncles,” she said, “And I went around tasting a lot of the mithai!”

You can almost smell the ghee and taste the sweets as you read the book; they’re virtually like characters in the novel, colourful, seductive and powerful. “The mithai is a metaphor. Food is a very big part of Indian families and for Mummyji, it’s a means of control over her family,” she said.

Naturally, the conversation at the launch turned toward what her third book is likely to be about. “I’m fascinated with the subject of marriage, but I don’t know what form the book will take,” she said.

One thing’s for sure; we can’t predict what it’ll be like from her first two novels. “I’m proud to be a multi-faceted person and I’d like to explore those different facets,” she said. “The third book will be as different as this one is from the first.”

2 Comments

Filed under Articles, Books, Madras

Book launch: ‘The Pleasure Seekers’ by Tishani Doshi

Photo: S.S. Kumar

This might have been the toughest book launch event Tishani Doshi has had to attend.

“It’s very unnerving to be in a position where I know so many people in the audience,” she said with a laugh during the launch of her debut novel,The Pleasure Seekers at Taj Connemara. “I feel you already know so much about me — it’s almost better to have anonymity to start with and have the audience get to know you!”

It was a little unnerving for a couple of other people in the audience as well — her parents, since the book for the most part is inspired by their Gujarati-Welsh marriage and the ‘hybrid’ family that resulted.

“My parents are here and I know they’re squirming in their seats,” she said with a smile. “But it’s an amazing story — I know I’ve never met any other Welsh-Gujaratis!”

Launched earlier in the U.K. to considerable acclaim, The Pleasure Seekers tells the story of Babo, a Gujarati boy who leaves his traditional family behind in Madras to study in London only to fall completely and irrevocably in love with Sian, a Welsh girl from an equally traditional family. How Sian comes all the way to Madras to make her life with him (and his family), and how they create their own little world with their daughters Mayuri and Bean in the “house of orange and black gates” forms the rest of this warm and heartfelt novel.

“This is not a memoir — it’s a re-inventing of their story,” said Tishani, in conversation with musician Susheela Raman. “I took the bits I found interesting and layered and added to it until, over time, the real people faded away and I was left with the characters of my own making.”

The book has been nearly a decade in the making, during which time Tishani has, of course, done a number of other things, including journalism, dancing with the iconic Chandralekha and writing poetry. Naturally, some influences from these other experiences have seeped into the novel — particularly, it appears, in the central character of Ba, Babo’s grandmother, a wise and almost mystical figure in the book.

“I’ve always maintained that Chandralekha was the biggest influence in my life,” she said. “Ba isn’t a portrait of Chandralekha, but does have elements of her. Her house, especially, was my inspiration for Ba’s home in Ganga Bazaar — a place to discover stuff, to heal.”

The book is also an exploration of Tishani’s own experiences of growing up as a ‘hybrid’. “It came out of my own need to answer the question — where do I come from?” she said. “Now, being from many places is much more accepted, but growing up, I was quite perplexed by it.”

Unsurprisingly, the question and answer session that followed focussed quite a bit on the blurring of lines between fact and fiction.

“As a writer, you’re interested in telling stories, and real life has great stories,” said Tishani. “You’re a magpie, stealing all these memories, yours and other people’s, for your nest… the blurring happens quite organically.”

So what’s next for the writer, dancer and poet? More multi-tasking, it appears. “I find wearing multiple hats liberating,” she laughed. “Writing a novel can feel like you’re teetering on the edge of despair, so I’m happy to be writing poetry again, and to be doing a dance performance at the end of the year!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Books, Madras

Movie Review: Grown Ups

Here’s the thing about ‘Grown Ups.’ Yes, it’s poorly crafted — hardly any plot to speak of — and is quite silly and gross in parts (as expected, several done-to-death gags on various bodily functions, plus a running joke on breast-feeding). But it’s just so good-natured and its leads are just having so much fun together that it’s impossible to actively dislike it.

It’s really not worth going into the story (such as it is). Suffice to say that five friends reunite after 30 years at their high school basketball coach’s funeral and spend the weekend of July 4 at a lake house with their families. None of the rest matters. Because this flick is just about putting together the ex-Saturday Night Live gang of Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade — with the addition of the loveably goofy Kevin James — and letting them have a ball.

The camaraderie between the guys is obvious. From the moment the five meet up on screen, they basically pick on each other mercilessly. The jokes are sometimes mean, sometimes lame, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and most often seem like they were ad-libbed on the spot or are in-jokes among the guys. You can just see they’re enjoying themselves, and that’s infectious.

It also has some genuinely hilarious bits — Rock as a tantrum-throwing house husband, and Schneider as a super-sensitive new age sop with a flapping toupee are just inspired choices. And like most Sandler comedies, the movie has at its core a sweet message. This time it’s about those good old-fashioned childhood pastimes — playing out there in the sun and splashing about in a lake — that are being forgotten in our world of video games and designer clothes for 12 year olds.

Amazingly, the ladies aren’t completely forgotten in this boys’ reunion — they do tend to take second place and disappear off screen for long bits, but we actually get to see them having fun together. Sandler’s super-successful fashion designer wife, played by Salma Hayek, is possibly the most real character in the movie. Hayek brings depth to her role (not to mention oomph); she almost seems too good to be part of this crew.

Of course, all the ‘issues’ in each family (never particularly well-explored except in Hayek and Sandler’s case) are simplistically resolved in a single scene. And then the movie limps to its good-natured end. But with its beautiful backdrop of Maine and its essential harmlessness, it’s hard to be mad at this breezy summer flick.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade and Salma Hayek.
Storyline: Five friends reunite for the 4th of July weekend after their high school coach passes away.
Bottomline: A feel-good flick that’s good for a few laughs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Humour, Movies