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.”