Monday, February 16, 2009

From Sorority Sisters

By Sunil K Poolani

Nine by Nine
Daman Singh
Price: 250; Pages: 250

If you are a debutante novelist in these present-day times, expectations (thanks largely due to global recession and a low-buying power) are high. Higher if you have a famous father, to boot. And if he father happens to be the Prime Minister of India, well, you can imagine.
So, here comes an ambitious work by Daman Singh, the second daughter of Manmohan Singh. Like father, like daughter. Senior Singh always kept a low-profile, not to talk about the unassuming character and the dignified probity he brought into his office; ditto his progeny.
And Daman Singh (and henceforth let’s call this Singh, Singh) has had a great career record; unassuming again. She spent twenty exciting years in rural development and — now here comes the interesting part — is now a full-time author, to wit. I do not know whether that is a wise decision she took, but reading the book in question, I am tempted to say that, she should tread that path carefully.
A gist of the book before we progress: it is primarily about Anjali, who is burdened with her mother’s persistent demands; she seeks solace in Tara, a talented free-spirit. Then there is this Paro, who wants to settle down by peacefully getting married, but her dreams got shattered; she comes as an absolute antithesis of what Anjali and Paro are.
Nine by Nine comes from that ubiquitous ladies’ hostel where rooms are divided in that size. Here is where all the antics played out by the inmates, or sorority sisters; and it is a universal syndrome. There you have everything: bra-strips, dope, lesbianism… Jane Austen, et al, portrayed these well. So tries Singh. The book may not have a great story to narrate; in bits and pieces it does. But the beauty lies in the observation and the uncanny portrayals of individual characters, whether it is the “dangerously handsome” waiter Ashok or Naresh, Tipu and Ajay, the characters who appear and disappear like in a Bollywood flick.
So Singh’s ‘sisters’ indulge in vices that are so ‘blasphemous’: drinking rum, bunking classes, showing the slip… So how is this maiden, ambitious novel different from the chic-lit churned out by our gullible, instant fame-seeking babes of our present times? Well, Singh has style; the book has substance. It is both absorbing and engaging. The simple reason being, this is a book that not only revolves around mundane characters but talks about losses and friendships, in vivid details.
There are surprises, though: Paro gets perfumed anonymous letters. And she thinks her cousin Vivek is behind this act. It is another matter that the real character is revealed at a later stage; but by then the damage has been done.
The plot and characters, if one brows through this, look like they are not in a hurry to catch a train or board a flight; and for exactly this reason, it is equally interesting or equally boring, whichever way you take it.
The final shot: Nine by Nine can never be a great book, and do not expect miracles in Singh’s later writings, too. The debut novel by Singh is a good read underneath a tree when you are holidaying. Nothing more, nothing less.
-- Deccan Herald / Sahara Time