12 June 2009

Life is Perfect by Himani Dalmia

The other half, and all their pain

To read this book is a bit like eating ice cream while suffering terrible backache. At one level you're enjoying it, while at another you’re conscious that it’s not good for health, and all this while you're trying not to scream in agony.
My second and third-hand information (the back cover and other reviews) indicate that Himani Dalmia is not just a stunner to look at, she also holds a Masters in South Asian Literature from the
University of Oxford. And if that’s not enough, she’s a “scion” of the Dalmia family with all kinds of assets including substantial social and cultural capital.
With this background, the book seems autobiographical.
Mitali has it all (“life is perfect”) and through this she comes to term with her relationships – with her longsuffering mother; her suave but absent father who we come to dislike almost as much as feel sorry for him; her boyfriend, her music teacher and her cousin who died tragically the previous year.
What was it that made me feel unable to take all this seriously?
Books about niche, peculiar communities are often important ones. Books written in marginalized dialects are often received as stylish and attractive. Books that centre on issues that seem ridiculous or trivial to others can easily meet with great success.
The structure and plot of this book kept me turning the pages. The characters are not badly developed. Some of the themes the book deals with are thoughtful and engaging, and some of its observations perceptive and amusing. And yet, the aching back overwhelmingly overrode the sweet, cool sensation of the ice cream. Perhaps editing of a higher quality would have lessened the pain.

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