Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wait and Gain Weight

The Waiting Room

Anupa Mehta

Penguin Books

Price: 195; Pages: 156

By Sunil K Poolani

The ‘mistake’ of Arundhati Roy’s and Kiran Desai’s ilk was to encourage Indian ladies (and men, too) of all ages and design to churn out works of ‘fiction’ that they think will take them to instant stardom and help procure them fat advances, if not for their debut work, then at least for the ones that they threaten to write later.

Most of these kinds of chic-lit stuff are not even worth writing, let alone publishing. And when you have respected Indian publishers like Penguin and Rupa start promoting a ‘literature’ of this variety the circle is complete; this augments the high expectations of wannabe writers to furiously pen more and more, consequently filling the metropolitan bookstores which have these days started looking like multiplex cinema halls where movies come and vanish, for ever, in just few days.

The Waiting Room by Anupa Mehta is one the latest in this genre. Akin to the title, the hapless reader waits — and waits — from the beginning of the novel to the end (if at all s/he manages to reach there, which is unlikely) to figure out what the story is all about. Story, did one say? Sorry, there is hardly anything. Nevertheless, a review demands the reader know something about the novel and the characters presumably playing a part in it. So here it goes.

The book is about Maya, who keeps meeting a physiatrist (and she waits in a room for that). The problem with her is that she is depraved of soulful love and good sex. She and her hubby, Sameer, a year since their wedding, had slipped into a routine life, without physical intimacy. Now, this physiatrist guy, Nayan, is a Casanova par excellence: Nayan helps Maya have sex. How did it go? Listen to her narrative, which is mainly in the form of diary (an easy way to write fiction; please take note, aspiring writers): “Yes, it hurt. I do not want to remember the weight of his body, or its smells or the jabbing, excruciatingly painful thrusts.” As the book progresses other patients too get fornicated by Nayan.

In between Maya gets a child, Sanjana. But Sameer has become more and more abusive: “Fucking shit… Goddamn bitch… Stupid c**t…” Aniket Nair is one person she had met in her long, sad years of hopelessness and physical craving. Though he slips easily into the role of confidant and guardian, he never makes love to her. Years later, he sifts through the journals where Maya wrote her life story to unravel what went wrong in her life. And here is where the novel falls flat: nothing is made out of the jottings.

At one point of time, Maya gets emotionally and physically attached to one Mir. Then comes one Dayal, whose relationship with Maya remained unconsummated, although they wooed each other over a few months, whatever it means. The lovers and paramours and sympathisers come and go like the passengers you witness in Howrah Station. As the novel meanders, it seems even Anupa Mehta, too, gets bored of Maya. So Mehta decides to kill Maya. How: “The visiting psychiatrist declared her condition ‘a case of acute melancholia leading to premeditated self-abnegation’ — a conclusion drawn from the fact that Maya stopped eating and drinking ten days before she died.” Then Mehta manages to get Sameer killed in a fatal car accident. Sanjana is remaining. Mehta is kind enough to have Aniket adopt her. And that is the end of the story (or the lack of it).

Statutory Warning: Read this book at your own risk, lest you might end up in a psychiatrist’s chamber. And if the psychiatrist is somebody like Nayan, you had it.

-- Deccan Herald

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