A great read with many magical moments, The Pleasure Seekers is inspired by the author’s own life.
Tishani Doshi’s much-awaited first novel The Pleasure Seekers is finally out. It has all the markings of a first novel that has been over eight years in the making. Poet and dancer with Chandralekha, the author has penned a story inspired from her own life of growing up in Madras to a Gujarati Jain father and a Welsh mother.
Dedicated to her parents - the “original pleasure seekers” as she calls them – the story starts at a point when her father is leaving for London to work and study with her grandfather’s business connections and describes the travails of a young Gujarati Jain boy’s displacement. Thereafter it leads on to when he finally succumbs in a few months, despite all the warnings from his mother, to stay away from meat, alcohol and women to all of these very temptations! The last being his meeting and completely falling in love with Sian his soon-to-be Welsh wife. Babo, the son of Prem Kumar Patel discovers a whole new world in his besottment.
The family back home hears of this and he is summarily asked to return on the false pretext of his mother being ill and then grounded for six months with a precondition that, if he is still in love, he must ask Sian to come to India and marry him and they must live there for two years before making any changes to moving away. All this happens.
Sian comes to India, adjusts to the family after their wedding and settles into a joint family existence of learning to make dhoklas and chappatis among the warmth and curiosity of her immediate family. In due course they move to their own house of ‘orange and black gates’ to raise their daughters Mayuri and Beena aka Bean. The undulating rhythms of Babo and Sian’s lives intermingle with the growing up pangs of the girls and their crushes, amid the loosely knit events of a family with all its textures of affection, jealousy and mutual admiration.
The seeking of spaces for the characters in their lives to validate and fill their inner beings is played up beautifully. The girls grow up towards the end; each leading up to their own life’s adventures as the parents deal with the loss of their own parents and cope with mid-life crisis, until in a crescendo, at the end, the book comes full circle to a point where love is reflected upon deeply at the precipice of loss.
Peopled with an assortment of relatives from Babo’s (which, in Gujarati, loosely translates as kiddo) extended family of sisters, nieces, brother and parents and his strong-willed and visionary grandmother Ba who lives in Kutch in a house of red lizards and peacock feathers and has a shocking head of white hair (inspired deeply by the dancer Chandralekha), it is also peopled by Sian’s Welsh family of siblings and parents and their emotional journeys vis-à-vis their daughter’s strange Indian connection. The curiosity from both cultures of the Gujarati Jain family and that of the Welsh family is easily overcome as both sides embrace the other in a warm and endearing emotional fuzzy glow.
The book reads simply and does not try the gymnastics of the genre that has become mandatory for new writers. The language flows and turns of phrase come naturally and smoothly into the reading that one has to pause to enjoy them. There is also a peppering of chutneyfication with phrases like ‘jhill mill’ teeth ‘ba-boom ba-boom’ with reference to sex and so on that seem at times a little forced.
The only serious flaw is that the Jain family Babo comes from has the surname Patel. A little research would have shown that Patels are not Jains unless they have co-opted the Jain way. Outside of this, the book is a great read with magical moments when the author talks of love and its different avatars, that of Babo-Sian for each other or for their children, the way Ba envelopes her brood with her love for them and then the multiple ways in which the younger generation Mayuri and Bean look for it in contemporary times.
As Salman Rushdie, a mentor who will be in conversation with the author later this summer in New York at the New York Public Library, has said “This is a captivating, delightful novel. I was totally engaged by Tishani Doshi’s people and by their world and the language often rises – when speaking of the great matters, life, death, and above all love – to powerful metaphorical heights’. I completely agree.