22 December 2011

A pack of lies by Urmilla Deshpande

Victim kicking below belt is ok, then?
Some months ago my friend Asha asked me to get her this book. I ordered it online and happened to peep in when it arrived. But this is the kind of book that has you turning pages faster and faster, so I barely looked up once or twice before it was all gone.
A Pack of Lies is written in the first person and the heroine, Ginny, has a problem with her mother who happens to be a writer.
I enjoyed the racy style and the descriptions of Bombay in the 1970s, which took me back to a time and place I don’t miss at all. But I did not enjoy the desperation, loneliness and the kind of defiance-inspired craziness it was suffused with - they made me nervous. Whether it was the description of food to a love-starved child, her arrogance towards her mother’s lovers, her grand plans to get rich by selling dope, Ginny’s modelling career, her unexpected inheritance, or the many other twists in her tortured life – I felt repulsed, but also pitying of a human being who was painted as steeped in bitterness.
It was only after I started reading the book aloud to Asha, who had been actually looking forward to a literary treat – having known the author’s mother, herself a well-known writer – that I realised the story was using Urmilla Deshpande’s own life as its peg and that there are any number of other characteristics and historical features Ginny shares with her creator. Even Sahitya Akademi award winner and Padma Shri Shashi Deshpande says, on the book cover, “A rare coming-of-age novel, frighteningly honest and exceptionally mature." Right!
Reading the book out to Asha, we kept digressing – bits from the book would set her off reminiscing; other bits would make her angry with the implicit libel they held. When Urmilla Deshpande’s alter ego is sexually abused by her mother’s husband, were we supposed to feel horrified and sorry for her – or admire her subtlety in naming her novel A Pack of Lies? Either way, both Asha and I found it revolting.
Urmilla Deshpande has impeccable grammar and it matches well with her impeccable lineage: her mother Gauri Deshpande and grandmother Irawati Karve were well-known writers, and her great-grandfather Dr Dhondo Keshav Karve was the great social reformer and educationist who came to be known as Maharshi Karve. Is it the grammar or the lineage or the hot parts that got her book attention? I wonder.

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