Anuja Chauhan’s latest is beautifully crafted and comfortably familiar.
The one overwhelming feeling after finishing Anuja Chauhan’s latest book is that of relief. It’s all right; this one is just as good. The fans can sit back and feel vindicated; basking in her craft’s reflected glory. And craft is exactly what it is. Those Pricey Thakur Girls live in a world so prettily crafted, so generously sprinkled with easy wit and engaging conversations that you want to sit with them and chat over a cup of coffee.
While it’s always a bit of a pity to dissect a good book, to look beneath the lush carpet of words for hidden debris of meaning, it can throw up some good surprises. So let’s revisit the Thakur girls and poke around the house while they lie on the roof, under the shade of the amaltas trees in full bloom.
Chauhan, during her book’s launch in Delhi, talked about how she didn’t want to be slotted as chick lit, didn’t really understand or appreciate the tag. But this latest book, with the slim flip-flops clad legs on the cover, accessorised by that mangy cat, can just as easily be put on the shelf with that very label. It’ll be an easy but incomplete slotting, though; a bit like calling a triple decker rich Boston cream pie a cake. Chauhan does write love stories, but like in our own worlds, her love stories are also never built in isolation. The hero isn’t just a pining lover; the heroine isn’t just spending her life waiting for this particular pining lover to steal her away. ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’ don’t want to be stolen. They are surrounded by men who love them, but who also know better than to take the centre stage. The Thakur girls aren’t the nicest people all the time, but they are plucky. They are sweet and charming, but they are also mean and spiteful and frankly, a bit crazy.
Perhaps the most important thing about those pricey Thakur girls is the complete ease with which their story is told. Chauhan might as well be sitting with you and telling you a juicy little saga about her friend’s friends over a cup of tea. The language, littered with the vernacular, is comforting.
In this particular book, Chauhan is telling a story of times gone by, and the hoard of characters that inhabit the pages live in that world which only exists today in nostalgic ‘do-you-remembers’ — a 1980s licence raj India with that one news channel and a single important newspaper; an India that lived on Campa Colas, Mahabharata and post- midnight half-price trunk calls. Chauhan takes us back in time and inside the sprawling central Delhi houses that have today become the symbol of sky-high property prices and indisputable old Delhi wealth. The Thakur family’s home and people get equal importance in Chauhan’s book. She reconstructs a post-Sikh-riot Delhi, with the Government hushing and shushing dissenting accusing voices. In the centre of this mess is a relationship both jarring and harmonious at once. Dylan and Debjani are a match made in their alphabetically- inclined father’s own version of heaven. Dylan, with his righteous journalist’s moral compass firmly in place, and Debjani with the sweet, fresh and essentially uninformed news anchor’s voice.
In this book, Delhi is only taking the first steps towards becoming the Delhi of today. The Thakur family, essentially laidback and good natured, is flustered by the demolitions and high rises around it. Chauhan’s plot isn’t complicated. You aren’t blown away by the developments and you aren’t really taken by surprise during the slightly drawn conclusion.
It’s difficult to say if Chauhan is the voice of the generation, because it’ll be a simple generation that had only one voice. But today, surrounded by an ever-growing pile of books written by authors who want to channel this very voice, Chauhan’s book seems pretty close to the mark.