Nothing to write home about
Why is it that I always find myself complaining about books lately? It’s been a long time since I finished reading Manju Kapur’s Home, but put off publishing this post as I didn’t want to seem like an inveterate whiner! Also, I thought time would mellow me towards it.
Some time ago I wrote about Kapur’s wholly regrettable A Married Woman. While Home doesn’t quite scrape the barrel like it, it does make you question yet again why certain books end up with glowing tributes. My theory is that it is because of the “Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome”. Because when critics read such books they are so flabbergasted by a total lack of plot, characters and direction, that they feel compelled to seek out deep symbolisms and unspoken meanings under the inanity. And rather than cast any aspersions on their intelligence, they bestow awards on such works and remove all doubt.
(And no, I don’t particularly like Simon Cowell…!)
[**NOTE: A number of spoilers follow, including the plot (ha ha) ending, so read on at your own risk. In my humble opinion, you might as well read on and save yourself Rs 395.**]
Home traces the story of two generations of the Banwari Lal family, owners of a cloth business in Delhi’s Karol Bagh area. We kick off with the newly married Sona starting off her life at her in-laws’, basking in the love of husband Yashpal, who has revolted against the sacrosanct tradition of arranged marriages that run in the family to insist upon marrying Sona.
The story winds along, narrating the highs and lows of the Banwari Lal business and family. Yashpal’s brother marries, and his wife dutifully produces two sons in quick succession, while Sona is only able to conceive ten years later. While the Banwari Lals are considered the epitome of middle-class respectability and tradition, it does not insulate the daughter of the family from her abusive husband. She dies in suspicious circumstances, and Vicky, her ten-year-old son, is brought to live in her parents’ home.
Meanwhile, the joint family grows. Sona’s young daughter Nisha is the target of Vicky’s lustful pubescent gaze. Night terrors follow, and Nisha is sent to live with her aunt. While the family suspects what might have happened, in the time-honoured traditions of Indian “respectability”, nothing is said outright.
Well, life goes on. The sons and daughter grow up. The sons marry, the joint family expands with the inclusion of the new daughters-in-law and the children that follow inevitably. Nisha falls in love with a boy in university, but he is considered too far beneath them in the social scheme of things for it to result in a wedding. He is paid off and scared off, and Nisha swirls into depression. Ultimately, she starts her own business, and does remarkably well, but a man is found for her. She marries, has twins, has to give up her business.
And there, suddenly, the story ends. A couple of pages before the ending we have Nisha worrying whether her husband really wants this baby, whether he really loves her, and what she is to do about her business, which her sister-in-law has sneakily pinched from her. Throughout the story it had seemed that Nisha was different. She aspired to something more substantial than the nondescript lives women such as her had—with little function apart from making “good” marriages, bearing children (sons, that is) and looking after their menfolk. Yet, suddenly, with:
Ten months after Nisha’s marriage, twins were born. One girl, one boy. Her duty was over—God had been kind, however hard it was to believe…. She quickly adjusted her palla and looked up. Surrounding her were friends, relatives, husband, babies. All mine, she thought, all mine.(pp.336–37)
the book ends.
While Home is supposedly a chronicle of the Indian joint family (something that fascinates and horrifies the Western world equally), to me, at times, it seemed that this was more Nisha’s story, right from her childhood abuse, to her failed love affair, and her desire to do something meaningful with her life. But the meandering narration begs to differ. There is no central plot to hold it together—just the fact that that Banwari Lal family apparently got up every morning, went to school/work, dealt with their problems, came home, went to bed, and lived to see another day. How was their life different from every middle-class business family? What makes them special enough that they feature in a book you and I are supposed to pay money to read?
Manju Kapur’s narrative style is decent—which is the only good thing about the book—though the use of Indianized English in conversation is jarring. Some sentences and phrases are directly translated from colloquial Hindi, and make little sense in English. While some may find it quaint, I find it plain annoying. Clearly, the protagonists do not speak English, but Hindi or some sort of local dialect. So why not let us have the conversation in plain English instead of making it idiotic?
Also her way of suddenly changing the tense from past to present—something I noticed in A Married Woman as well—makes the writing rather tacky in some places. In one part she actually changes mid-section to dialogue form, and then switches back again. As a reader, I find it careless, annoying, and extremely off-putting.
My verdict: 4/10.