50 pages into the book I have so much to say about it but thought I should keep the lid on until I finish book 1, i.e. stopped at Chapter 7, 7.46 to be exact. Now that I have finished book 1, here’s my thought for the first month of the readalong:
The first thought when I read the book was: wow, this is a so confusing. So many names and characters and so many jargons of Indian terms. What is Raag Todi? What kind of music is ghazal? How does a sindoor, or a starched kurta or dhoti looks like? Can someone write a glossary and include it at the back of the book for me please?
I stuck out and persevere I did…. and then I got hooked! I should have guessed! To keep the story going for 1484 pages, it must involved a lot of characters (I wonder War and Peace is the same?) and all of them were given adequate slot and airtime. A Suitable Boy is about four large families (the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans and the Chatterjis) and those who orbit around them, it is also a vast, panoramic exploration of the Indian subcontinent at a crucial hour as it faces its first great General Election and the forming of a new nation after the partition (in case you don’t know).
The story at its core is a love story. The tale of Lata of the Mehra’s family, and her mother’s attempt to find a suitable boy for her. Poor Lata however is shackled by her mother’s protective maternal instincts. Mrs Rupa Mehra is a melodramatic, sentimental women. She lost her dear husband and was left to raise Arun, Varun, Savita and Lata on her own. The book opens with Savita Mehra’s marriage to Pran Kapoor, where the four families are gathered. Lata then fell in love with Kabir and engages in a forbidden love, staying true to a common theme of Indian movies where class incompatibility (different religion, different caste, rival families) is always the main source of tragedy and misery. I read the part on Lata’s love story eagerly, so very eager to find out what happens next. But there are many other characters who stole the limelight which digress from the main aim of finding a suitable boy. We have Arun Mehra the upcoming ambitious executive with a British firm with wife Meenakshi Chatterji who is a social butterfly living a very unconventional lifestyles of daily evening entertainments with office associates and circle of friends. Varun Mehra the younger brother, good for nothing, disappointing black sheep of the family who is trying to complete his degree. There is Savita who married Pran Kapoor, an English professor who is trying to get James Joyce into the teaching syllabus much to the objection of the university panel.
In the Kapoor family, we have Pran and younger brother Maan who is smitten by a courtesan and singer, Saeeda Bai with dire consequence. Pran’s sister Veena and husband Kedarnath is experiencing liquidity problem as the shoemaking business that they own are hampered by worker’s revolution. Father Mahesh Kapoor is the Revenue Minister. A taciturn man who seems to treat his wife unkindly, approves the land bill to take land away from the landlord Zarmindan.
The Khans are connected to the Kapoors by Maan, whose good friends are Firoz Khan who relentless teach Mann the game of polo and other stuff. Firoz’s sister Zainab lives behind the veil after she is married and endures a life of subservient to her unfaithful husband.
The Chatterji is the breath of fresh air and the most interesting of all family and seems to model after Seth’s own family.
The Chatterji Family at breakfast presented a scene of cordial conflict. It was an intelligent family where everyone thought of everyone as an idiot. some people thought the Chatterjis obnoxious because they appeared to enjoy each others’ company even more than the company of others. but if they had dropped by at the Chatterjis for breakfast and seen them bickering, they would probably have disliked them less. – page 407
The Chatterjis’ eldest son, Amit is trained in law but prefers to meddle with poetry and writing novels. Meenakshi is married to Arun Mehra as I mentioned. Dipankar studied economics (Seth studied economics too) and is expected to run the father’s business, if Amit wouldn’t do it. Kakoli, also known as Kuku is the favourite daughter who is involve with a German expatriate named Hans. While Tapan is Judge Chatterji’s 13-year-old son who demonstrates similar poetry prowess to his elder brothers.
I like A Suitable Boy better than An Equal Music. Out of all the stories, I love the story of Lata and Mann’s devotion to Saeeda Sai. The stories of the Chatterjis which appear one quarter at the end of book 1 appeals highly to me too.
True to his reputation as a polyglot, or a polymath, Vikram Seth could talk about everything with depth and precision. Seth moves effortlessly through the questions of the heart (love, heartbreaks, poetry, marriage and Indian classical music) and the mind (High court justice system, Indian politics, land bills and union protests, Indian philosophy, religious belief, polo games and horse racing) with ease and grace. Sometimes serious, other times flippant but never mundane. Plenty of suspense and hilarious moments to keep me entertain.
I wonder how you are getting on Sam, Aths. and Ana? Alison P, Amritorupa @riversihaveknown, Bina@ifyoucanreadthis and my colleague at work Aisling have been roped into this readalong too. Hope you all like it as much as I did.
Now soldiering on for the next 1,000 pages!