Love and its recent Indian literary manifestations

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Love is the most cherished, yet complex, not to mention a much misunderstood, human emotion. It can make one person break out in song and another into tears, transform a person from rage to meekness, and make people amenable to giving up personal freedom for commitment and togetherness.

Despite those who would question its centrality and want it to be replaced by more abstract political ideals, or at least, regulated firmly, love- is celebrated in epics, plays, poetry, and novels, in more manifestations that can be enumerated.

Still, there is the question of why we should read romantic novels, dismissed by some as “chick-lit”, when we know the protagonists will be living “happily ever after”.

Then why do we read other genres when we know the hero or heroine will rarely be unsuccessful in solving the mystery/defeating the villain/saving the world or whatever the goal is? The fun is in the details. We may already know the destination, but our interest in the journey is the thrill of what we may find on it.

Let us begin with Swati Kaushal, whose further exploits of the spunky Himachal cop Niki Marwah are much missed after the first two installments. Her debut novel, “Piece of Cake” (2005), chronicles the (mis)adventures of the rather sassy Minal Sharma.

While there is a colleague, from down memory lane, who seems keen on running her down, on the other hand, there are family pressures for an arranged marriage and the dictates of her heart in choosing her life partner. Sounds like a tall order, but there is a lightness of touch and flashes of comedy — right till the denouement where she does something innovative with her engagement ring — that keep the story engrossing.

Kiran Manral’s “All Aboard” (2015) takes us into the life of working woman, Rhea Khanna, who, right at the outset, is jilted by her long-time boyfriend days before their marriage, and is invited by her aunt to accompany her on a Mediterranean cruise.

There they run into an affluent entrepreneur, who turns out to be her aunt’s former student and is consequently very solicitous of her and Rhea. It is obvious that a romance will develop and also that there will be the usual obstacles. But the cruise setting ensures that there will be a definitive timeframe for the issue to be decided while there is a crime element to add some sparks.

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Love may be thought of as carefree and exuberant, but how does it fare when the music stops? That is the focus of Donna Dias Manuel’s debut novel, “Love is Never Easy” (2017), expressed through three women, friends from their school days, but now dispersed around the world, who meet up in Goa for a Christmas holiday ahead of their old school’s centenary celebrations. But it will be no ordinary vacation, for each of them are harbouring secrets which will not only change their own lives, but also their relations with each other.

Think of a modern-day tale of love with a cricketer and is it “The Zoya Factor” that comes to your mind?

Think again. Sakshama Puri Dhariwal’s “Man of Her Match” (2017) is about Nidhi Marwah, who finds to her horror that she has to collaborate with the cricket team’s enfant terrible Vikram Walia, for her Delhi paper’s education mission after Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan pulls out at the last minute. A Bollywood actress, media managers, family pressures, and so on, contribute to the makings of a typical Indian potboiler.

Rachna Singh’s “Band, Baaja, Boys!” (2016) is an entertaining, near-farcical romp through non-metropolitan, “mofussil” India that most of us have come from and not yet forgotten, where tradition and modernity co-exist (though uncomfortably), bad English is no bar to expression, lack of opportunities do not always stifle aspirations, and life is rarely dull — though for the wrong reasons.

At its centre is newly-turned-21 Binny Bajpai, a bit naive but well conscious of her allure to seek (male) attention whenever feeling neglected, but still, a doll for her parents, with whom she must contend to determine her future which she wants to be comfortable and on her terms — as far as possible. She is also perhaps the first character in English fiction to resort to “kalmuhi”, “karamjali” and “kalankini” — the use of the dialect, speech cadence, and slang remain a delight.

In a darker contribution, Tharun James Jimani uses Delhi’s barbaric December 16, 2012, gangrape as both an anchor and a catalyst for “Mornings After” (2016), which delves not only into the tangled thought processes and emotions of an unlikely couple, both transplanted Malayalis, but also what their circle, their families and the wider world expect from them.

Senior business executive Sonya meets footloose Thomas at a small beach town in Karnataka, but he drops out of contact for months before suddenly landing at her home and beginning a relationship.

With characters like the “Gender General”, the story is not only about love or various facets of its modern urban manifestation, including what the maid might think of your live-in relationship, but also of roles and expectations as well as the responsibilities and commitments it demands.

Vikas Datta, IANS

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