Book Review/Recap: A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

Shockster’s been re-reading his favourite books and I’ve got to say I feel like a philistine in comparison. The boy’s been able to get through books that have crossed continents with me (unread). However, I shall try to better myself and shadow his reading list this year. Who knows? Maybe by the time the year is out I will be such a vastly improved person that… Nopes, I lack the self-righteousness to complete that sentence. All I know is that if I just stopped re-reading A Suitable Boy every once in a while I would be able to make a good dent in that reading list of mine. I keep reaching for the book so often that I experienced withdrawal symptoms during my pregnancy. Unlike what pop culture would have you believe, a baby bump is not a coffee table and this is one heavy book.

Source: WIkipedia

I read the book the first time because it was one of those books everyone was talking about. I’ve been re-reading it since because the characters are like friends to me now and I start to miss one of them every once in a while. It’s hard to decide which thread of events is my favourite. This time around it’s been Maan Kapoor and his travels in Rudhia district. The time before it was Saeeda Bai and Meenakshi Chatterjee/Mehra and their seductiveness. When I first read the book I was, of course, dreaming of my own Amit Chatterjee. Lata herself is a bit insipid and I always end up skipping the main thread similar to how I skip the bits with Frodo in them when I re-read LOTR (Why do I re-read books so much?).

A Suitable Boy is such a mish-mash of so many different things that it’s easy to find something you love. There are parakeets and crumbling monuments. Love affairs and courtesans. The shoe trade and British firms. Evil dogs and wise monkeys. Communal tension and the hint of a same-sex affair thrown in for good measure. There are grandmothers and masseurs and mathematical geniuses and IAS aspirants. There are babas and materialists and spinster aunts and musical ustaads. Everyone has a story. Every story has a climax. Everyone ages remarkably by the end of the novel and everyone settles down sensibly – more’s the pity.

For most part this book is a light, albeit lengthy, read. It’s not deep or dark or intense. It doesn’t intend to shed light on some sort of ugly underbelly of a hypocritical society or make us cynical about human nature. However, I do find it dark the same way I find R. K. Narayan’s writing a bit dark. I find that an impartial, non-judgmental view of the way things are depresses me far more than writing that seeks to persuade.

Overall, I think it’s worth reading the book not for Kuku’s couplets as Shockster suggests:

Roly Poly Mr Kohli
Walking slowly up the stairs,
Holy souly Mrs Kohli
Comes and takes him unawares

Mr Kohli, base and lowly,
Stares at choli, dreams of lust,
As the holy Mrs Kohli
With her pallu hides her bust

But for Mr Makhijani’s poetry:

29. We are all masters, each a Raja or Rani
No slave, or high or low, says Makhijani
Liberty equality fraternity justice as in Constitution
In homage of mother we will find all solutions

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