Book Reviews

Capturing India of 1990s with Potboiler of a Book

New Delhi
It was the India of the 1990s. The days of 'licence raj', when so much dirty money changed hands due to the government's restrictions on business, were drawing to an end. The country was at a crossroads.

Author Reeti Gadekar's novel "Families at Home", set to hit the stands in India in May, dwells on the dichotomy that people faced on the threshold of a new era - a conflict between personal crisis and adjustment to a new, transparent era.

"For economic liberalisation to make sense, you needed social change to complement it. My book is about the conflict that people faced in their day-to-day life," Germany-based Gadekar, who was here in connection with the book, told IANS.

In a genre distinctly reminiscent of popular Bollywood potboilers with strong social messages, she narrates the tale of Nikhil Juneja, an additional commissioner in Delhi Police (ACP), closeted in a sweaty cubicle at a police station in south Delhi, who like the 40 something Indian of the mid-90s cannot decide which way to go.

A suicide in a high profile home is exactly the kind of case that Juneja, an English speaking, ambitious Punjabi policeman, wants to take on. Easy contacts, easy money and an easy conscience.

But things don't work out quite that way. The death becomes a murder, the contacts onerous and his conscience heavy. Will the path of liberation or liberalisation carry Juneja forward?

Shortlisted for the ManAsian Literary prize for the best contemporary novel in 2007, the book is a telling comment on the India of the 1990s by an author who left it in search of greener pastures, borne aloft by the tide of globalisation.

"My book," says author Gadekar, "is about the banality of justice sought and deflected." 

"The ACP is in the throes of a midlife crisis. He is 40, a bachelor. He is often spotted at the shady night hops of Delhi with women in mini-skirts. He has an unsatisfactory sex life and his career is not really taking him anywhere. India was like that during the mid-90s. I tried to capture the India of 1995." 

"The systems of justice, policing and bureaucracy in India have a problem. They have to walk the tightrope between what they should do and what the system expects them to do."

At times, Gadekar comes across as preachy - the messages overshadow the narrative.

"The social message about denial of justice is deliberate. I don't think it's possible to write and be creative unless you feel strongly about something," says Gadekar, who used to work as a translator, teacher and librarian but has given it all up to write full time.

"I feel very strongly about what is happening in Delhi - the Jessica Lal murder, the Tandoor killing, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case and the Nitish Katara murder and the processes of justice - even though I am based in Berlin. However, my editors at Harper Collins helped me tone down the message," the author admitted.

Gadekar is sceptical about first-time novelists and the glut of Indian novels in English in the market though she is a first-timer herself.

"It is as if anyone who knows a publisher is writing something and getting it published. It gets a bit boring. But this is a phase. Only those who are serious about their writing will survive," she said.   


More by :  Madhusree Chatterjee

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