Don’t judge a book by its author.
It took me a long time to finish this book, almost two months. No, it wasn’t boring. I just took it slow and easy. Like a leisurely drive up those mountain roads, savouring the view at each hairpin bend, soaking up the sunshine. The prose is lovely, the mountains and valleys come alive and people become real. But the story, the plot? Not so much.
The unnamed narrator, one whom I cannot help but picture as Tarun Tejpal, grey ponytail and all towards the end, and his wife Fizz live a content life wanting nothing but each other. Obsessed with each other’s bodies, they exist happily on love and fresh air. His only other relationship is with his typewriter and the book he wants to write, a book that gets abandoned many times. There are stories within the story. A story that he writes, a story that he plans to write, a story that he abandons halfway, a story from his grandmother’s life and finally a story that changes his life.
An unexpected inheritance and an advertisement in a newspaper that wrapped a samosa takes them up the mountains to Gethia where they fall in love again, but this time with an old house. They buy it and name it First Things. And while they tear down walls and put up balconies, they discover a chest full of diaries written by the original inhabitant. And that is when a wall comes up between them and their life begins to unravel. I still don’t understand exactly why those diaries and his obsession with them made him fall out of love ( or think he fell out of love), but as he finds himself sucked into the life of Catherine , Fizz gets slowly phased out of his. There are five sections in the book: Prema ,Karma ,Artha ,Kama and Satya with Kama playing a major part in all sections. But as shocking and unconventional and disgusting as it was, the Kama was handled tastefully. (Disgusting and tasteful? Yes)
As with all women ‘seeking’ something in many of the books these days, I still don’t get Catherine. Can a woman not ‘rebel’ or ‘discover herself’ without sexual adventures? But anyway, that’s not the point. In pre Independence India, Catherine, her gay Muslim husband and their (yes, their) lover consume the Kama section and totally draw you away from the main story, much like how the narrator got drawn. It is another world, another era another lifetime. And then abruptly, it shifts back to the 90s, the 90s where you realise you don’t want to be in. I just couldn’t buy that trip to the USA and the super easy closure that he got. The book stretched languidly for almost 450 pages and ended suddenly. And then again took a lazy turn in the penultimate chapter ( it was totally unnecessary, it just dragged the book down) before a predictable end.
I bought this book only after Tarun Tejpal got into the mess he is in now, so though I don’t judge the book by its author, I judge the author by his book. I almost want to pronounce him guilty of that crime simply based on his unconventional attitude and obsession with a woman’s body in this book. But I won’t.