A new era of fill- in- the- blanks writing promises to tell stories of urban girls in an urbane whirl. It doesn’t deliver.
There is a new genre of fiction that straddles the distance between chick lit and more serious women’s fiction. Let’s call it fill- in- theblanks fiction. In chick lit, every description of the invariably plucky heroine is followed by a detailed description of either food or fashion. So one minute the heroine will make a deep, meaningful statement about the love of her life—“decades could pass and that voice wouldn’t fade from memory”— and in the next sentence, she will notice the “pale blue sweater, butter soft to the touch” or the “flat leather messenger bag on his shoulder”. That’s Kavita Daswani in Bombay Girl, an otherwise entertaining read about succession in a ridiculously wealthy Mumbai business family. This kind of fiction leaves some room for fun since it embraces the joys of living: There are detailed descriptions of food— pumpkin ravioli and almond crusted salmon— all cooked by the man, of course, and long digressions into the lives of Mumbai’s rich wives, who spend their day doing voluntary work, organising religious ceremonies, going on shopping expeditions and getting facelifts.
Then there’s the other kind of fill- in- theblanks fiction, where every sentimental observation is immediately followed by a retelling of life- altering events. The heroine will be recalling her childhood, being lifted by her father as a toddler, her head put on his shoulder, her fingers stuck in her mouth. And in the next breath, the reader will be told about Indira Gandhi attacking East Pakistan. One minute she will be clasped to her father’s chest as an older woman, returning from a sojourn abroad, “smelling his oven- burnt smell, inhal- ing her country by the lungful,” and another minute, the nation’s eyes would be glued “to the Babri Masjid, a 400- year- old mosque in the city of Ayodhya that a group of Hindus claimed was the birthplace of the god Rama”. That’s Mishi Saran’s The Other Side of Light.
Of course, I can write neither kind but it makes me wonder why would people read this or indeed Absolutely Nuts by Vijaya Lukose or Nick of Time by Komal Mehta? One could argue that after the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, people will read anything, but that would be a mistake. That’s an altogether different formula— every tremulous feeling summoned by the heroine is followed by a graphic sex scene involving accessories readers will find only in kinky sex websites. Nylon ropes? Riding crops? Handcuffs?
There is an appetite for reading about people like us. Or at least peoples we’d like to be. What’s not to like about Sohana Badshah’s life in Bombay Girl, as she mingles with botoxed aunts and hunky boyfriends? Or about Asha’s life in The Other Side of Light as she drifts through life having beautiful sex and taking stunning pictures? Clearly there is a market for the world of cheap flights and cheerful holidays that Lukose recreates in Absolutely Nuts, with Geraldine Pinto at its centre. Perhaps because it is a not- so- thinly veiled account of recent aviation history including a character called Mauj Singh who has a lifestyle of private yachts, private jets, private villas and private women, who seems remarkably familiar. And clearly there is also a market for Alehya who is in love with Vicky who is to marry Shagun, all in happy Chandigarh, which is the story of Nick of Time.
We need to read more, yes, but perhaps not this.