07 July 2010

Aftertaste by Namita Devidayal

Food, jewels and family business
In Namita Devidayal’s very successful first book The Music Room, she wrote about her music teacher and about her relationship with Indian music. It was clear from the book that Namita is a talented writer who comfortably inhabits different worlds. In this work of fiction, different as it is from her first, she takes us into one of them.

The Todarmals are a business family. They experience ups and downs in their business, and out-of-the-box thinking that gives it a lateral shift. Their lives and relationships revolve around money. Display of wealth with a view to impressing others, and a tendency to grab and hoard, are dominating characteristics. Relationships within the family are a delicate balance of power and control. There is no safe space in which feelings can be expressed. A mother may be focused on home and work, but her influence is so strong that her insecurities and ambitions seep into them unawares, destructive and emasculating.
This story has many characters and a number of dramatic events. What struck me most, however, was the narrator’s style which, I felt, dominates the narrative. As you read, you can’t help noticing her lack of reverence for, and amusement at, this particular lifestyle where people take themselves and their diamonds (never quite large enough) so seriously.
And Namita is a narrator who applies her personal wisdom while recounting the thoughts and experiences of her characters. Here are two small examples:

Then one day, as it happens when the going gets too good to be true, two big Sindhi borrowers, both in the real estate business, defaulted. One case ended in suicide, the other in jail. The business was over and the banks were at Phoolchand’s door. And they would soon be knocking on Daddyji’s doors. He was finished. His material existence was at stake. Above all, he felt like a failure, which was far worse than the actual loss of money.

Daddyji has a diary in which he sometimes wrote down nuggets of wisdom. His father had once told him of the two rules of running a business successfully – regardless of whether one manufacture lead pipes or made mouth-watering sweets. First, your second-in-command must always be either from within the family or a close friend, buy only from the baniya business community. Only then can be understand your ways and be trusted with the cash. Second, loss in business is inevitable and must be borne with fortitude, even if it means having to completely start over.

I enjoyed this book and was also interested to read Namita’s post on the Random House blog which gives context to her novel.

Here’s a short Q&A with Namita Devidayal:
How difficult was this book to write, compared to your last one?
This book was completely different to write because, unlike 'The Music Room', it is very plot-driven. I actually don't like to compare books unless it is relevant. Both books have their own style and tone. I didn't think too much about. 'The Music Room' and just had fun writing this!

Is this book inspired by people and events in your own family?
Yes, this book is based loosely on a lot of people in my extended families and the bania community, but it is definitely not autobiographical. I think in the end I just used bits from here and there and then let my imagination run wild!

What are you working on next?
I am currently channeling all my creative energies into a little home and writing retreat I am creating in Alibaag! After that, possibly a book on marriage, though I'm not yet sure what shape and form that will take, whether fiction or non-fiction.

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