Let’s begin by saying this is not my kind of book. Whose kind it is, we will come to that a little later. Let me first tell you how I came to review this book. Sanjay Grover, the author of ‘An Ideal Wife’ is a Facebook friend and had posted asking if someone wanted to review the book. I volunteered. When the eBook came to me, I was quite busy with my papers and had to wait a little while to read it. And when I read it, I read it in three sittings.
Now, the story begins and a series of jokes are cracked which range from normal to misogynistic to homophobic. There are more jokes to come through the book, and a lot of them would be misogynistic. Let me also point out that misogynism is so subtle and deeply embedded in our society, that many people do not know they are being blatantly misogynistic. [I’ve used misogynism four (now five) times in this paragraph, it’s more deeply embedded than that in our society, and most of the time it’s not, as I said, clearly visible.]
If it was just the idea, I could have still said it was a good book, like most of us agree that despite being blatantly racist and slavery apologist, ‘Gone With The Wind’ is a classic. But the language has some discrepancies as well. It feels too verbose at times, the author tries very hard to be funny at places and the dialogue tags halt you at places. The dialogues are sometimes conversational, at other times, not so much. There is although a redeeming factor about the language. Many colloquial terms, Mumbai terms, and famous Hindi phrases have been added, which add a flavour to the book, which if, would have had been combined with a little sensivity in portryal of ideas and characters, would have made a wonderful book. Which reminds me, the story is good, it lacks sensitivity of course, but it is good.
Another good thing of story has to do with representation of police, criminals and their inter-personal relationships. It is complex and brutally honest.
Sameer, the hero, is a cool macho man. And easily fits into the definition of masculinity which popular media has constructed over the years. Athelete? Check. Handsome? Check? Lover of the elderly and children? Check. Helping collegues? Check. The woman he proposes rejects and ‘friendzones’ him? Check. He is, in short, a typical Bollywood hero.
The story has many troubling scenes to offer (which are supposed to be funny). Example: ‘There was a decidedly feminine flick of his hand as he said this, and I couldn’t help but smirk at that.’ Message: Being feminine is bad, degrading and of course, funny, even in heaven. But the scene is more complex than the blunt statement I made. See, the person who says the above dialogue is a dwarf God, no, not as in ‘less powerful’ but as in ‘physically small’. He is often mocked by other Gods and God aspirants (there is whole lot of politics going on in heaven, which is in quite the similar fashion as of Indian politics and thus a powerful satirical comment on Indian political scenario), yes, even by the feminine male God.
This discrimination reminded me so powerfully of yet another such scene. Minal Hajratwala in her ‘Summer, Manhattan’ writes,
“On a doorstep a black man shouts at two white men.
Sitting close together: ‘I dont’t want no homos in my
neighbourhood , go on over to the West Side.’
A white man shouts back: ‘You calling me a homo, you
Whether Sanjay does this intentionally or unintentionally is yet another issue, so is the fact that this discrimination is not as explicit to show that it is discrimination but done in such a way as to induce humour. What Sanjay achieves here is that he manages to show, even if unintentionally, that we all discriminate, even Gods.
I’m not sure if I’m revealing the story, my motto is not to, but this story needs to be dissected as it raised many questions for me. Ironically, this was supposed to be a light reading, a fun story. Some of the things which are funny according to author are, a man being touched and groped by women in public, and of course since his wife ‘isn’t jealous’, she laughs, a woman wanting to have sex is also funny, and her husband like a sanskari (cultured/traditional) man is embarrassed by her unsatiable sexual drive, he even wakes up screaming he doesn’t want sex.
The fact that almost all men ogle at women, more so if they are ‘beautiful’ (which is taken to mean tall, thin, white and/or other media advertised characteristics) is present in the book and it is uncomfortable only to the woman’s husband because she is ‘his’ (Grammar lesson, that’s a possessive pronoun) wife. Men can and do comment on (read ‘catcall’) women and again it’s not a problem to anyone. According to the storylne, not even to the women. (Yeah, I know!) But that’s the problem with us. We don’t see the problem.
You may be wondering if the book was as horrible, as I say, why did I even finish it? But then it was, as I had said, not totally horrible. It is funny at places. A Bollywood masala story, not Ekta Kapoor style, thankfully, but of course in the line with those hit stories which claim to be different. I’d like to maintain, however, that the hero is a douchebag and remains that till the end.
Should you read it? That’s totally up to you. If you are comfortable with what popular media shows, you will love this book. It has that plus Gods and politics. If you can get around the problems I mentioned, you will ‘like’ this book. It is, after all, supposed to be a fun read and to some extent it is. But if the representation of ideas and characters is troubling to you, you’ll be baffled yet again at popular media.
One last thing, I do not know how I feel about using a product name (positively and of course with a view to promote it, and in case you were wondering, a matrimonial website) in a book. But then, market factors are influencing a lot of things. Many movies do that. Why not books?
*Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction by Pramod K. Nayar