08 December 2011

A Suitable Book

A Suitable Boy
Author: Vikram Seth
Read: 06 November 2009
(This is one of my favorite books. Its an old review but I hope you enjoy it.)

When Seth opens his book with the lines...

'Buy me before good sense insists,
You’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists.'

he is not totally right.. whatever the price this book is a collector's item so buy it and add to your study. I borrowed this book from the library and yes it is surprisingly huge and scary. Everyone who saw me carrying it was equally astounded. I started having doubts what if the book becomes a lousy read and I end up wasting my time or leave it half read.. but the book from the first word was a smooth read and I never for once lost my interest. And thankfully I could manage  carrying and reading it without straining my wrists..

Now a book of 1350 pages deserves a big review.. so please bear with my longish opinion..

The subject of the book is MATRIMONY - as simple as it can get, finding a Suitable boy for the leading lady Lata. The story starts with a marriage and  maneuvers around various plots and characters with historical and political undertones - but it still ends with a marriage.  If I tell you who she marries - you will never pick up the book, but believe me when I say..

'Despite the themes the book is more than it seems.'
Theme: Matrimony
The best part of the book is its simplicity. The story, the characters, plots, incidents, locations, flow, all is seamless and simple. The characters feel alive, breathing, forming shapes and features - whatever way you imagine them to be. They are there around you -enacting their lives - the story of the book.

Brahmpur of 1951-52, relates very well to the life of my childhood cities - Moga and Chandigarh of 1980s. The times were different but the people, situations, lifestyles, sensibilities were so similar and so familiar.

But what struck me the most in the book were its CHARACTERS. They maketh the Families and they make the Book...

Mehras with Lata, Sarita, Mrs Rupa Mehra, Arun, Varun are a perfect match of extremes.. the drama queen Mrs Rupa Mehra, arrogant Arun, simple  Sarita, confused Varun, balanced and sensible Lata.. make a happy family and some of the most beautiful parts are when they are together in the book...

Kapoors headed by supposedly ethical but dominating and unreasonable Mr Mahesh Kapoor, homely and religious Mrs Kapoor, genuine and intellectual Pran, vagabond and fun loving Maan.. family is not the right word. In fact they never do behave like a family, all of them live in different zones and probably different worlds...

Chatterjees with regular Mr & Mrs Chatterjee, poetic Amit, holy Dipankar, vivacious Meenakshi, cute Kakoli and sweet Tapan are a special mix of characters - right out of PG Wood house novel.. In fact they are the comical part of the book, always amusing and lovable... To phrase Chatterjee madness it would be apt to quote a Kakoli couplet..

'Roly poly Mr Kohli
Walking slowly up the stairs
Holy souly Mrs Kohli
Comes and takes him unawares

Mr Kohli, base and lowly,
stares at choli, dreams of lust,
As the holy Mrs Kohli
With her pallu hides her bust.'


Other characters are equally important in the book. The Tandon Family - Kedarnath - Veena - Bhaskar, Baiter family, wacko grandpa Kishan Chand Seth, balancing act of Parvati, Rasheed's extended family, Raja & Rajkumar of Marh, Professors Sunil, Mishra, Durrani. Crazy Baba, politicians like Sharma, Aggarwal, Waris Khan or the great Jawaharlal Nehru. Artists like Saeeda Bhai, Majeed Khan, Ishq khan, memorable Mast, and oh so innocent and protected Tasneem..

They all form a critical part of the lives of these families and search of the Suitable Boy for Lata. And not to forget handsome and charming Kabir vs the hard working and practical Haresh..

Seth touches upon the various issues prevailing in Indian society till date -politics, elections and religious bigotry, Hindus vs Muslims, partition and post partition struggles, faltering Congress, Socialism, Communist ideals, Capitalist MNC culture and lifestyles of Brits, Czechs & Germans, clubbing or art, Tarbooz bazaar and ghazal concerts, fading princely states and patrons for Nauch girls and singers...


He rightly puts the rationale behind promotion of mediocrity in politics..

'Politicians, you know, prefer to appoint mediocrities to important posts not merely because they themselves will look better in comparison or because they are afraid of competition, but also because, you see, a person appointed on merit feels that is owed to him, while a mediocrity is only to conscious that it is not.'


One can keep delving into the depth and nuances of each character and layers will keep opening up.. but my advise is just read it and let the characters form their own images in your head..

Simply.. don't analyse them much because they don't do everything for reason or logic.. in fact not even passion or love..not even responsibility or morals..

They just do it because they do it...

Must-Must Buy A Suitable Boy

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