Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book Review – He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him by Shikha

Shikha’s book ‘He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him’ is not about cricket. As an Indian, I thought it my responsibility to make that clear right at the onset. What the book is about the cover should amply tell you. If not, turn it over and read the blurb. For some reason, the main story line has been included in it, enough to have made me wonder at multiple points why the gist-with-the-twist was made public. Not everything that’s between the covers need come out. 

The book is a hate-to-love story of Shreya and Kunal, living and working in New Delhi and Mumbai, respectively. Matched through a wedding site and arranged by the families, the ceremony takes place in fast track mode only to come crashing down on Shreya’s head on the wedding night. That is when she realizes who Kunal really is, because that is when she sets eyes on him for the first time! A flashback away we realize they share a dirty past which neither is ready to forgive and forget, fixing the marriage being Kunal’s way of getting back at her. The book goes from festival to function to board meeting to festival again to show how the ‘husband’ and the ‘wife’ gradually get to know each other, enough to not just forgive the past but also to ‘rise in love’.  Shikha surrounds the hero and the heroine with enough characters to help take this main plot-line forward. 

Now, I take chick-lit very seriously, and have learnt to ignore men who think it’s only lit by a chick. As a genre, chick-lit is supposed to be an opportunity to write about women’s roles and relationships, aspirations and even their everyday. Of course, in a light-hearted manner and with an eye on mass appeal. Thus, the implied battle of the sexes in Shikha’s debut book’s title got me interested and the ‘She Fixed Him’ made me rub my hands in anticipation. This also marked my primary expectation from the book – that of a well-created female protagonist reflective of her creator’s own mind.

So …

I like how Shikha has trained her writer’s magnifying glass on the middle class marriage scene in India. Chapter 1, in some ways, is reminiscent of the first scene of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. We see Mahesh and Sandhya, Shreya’s parents, worrying over their ‘marriageable' daughter’s ever-increasing pay package. Since she is too qualified, Kunal is celebrated as ‘no less than heaven-sent’ by them.  While prospective parents-in-law talk, Shreya’s brother’s wife, Aastha joins in the chorus with ‘we must make sure Shreya doesn’t hear it until it’s nearly pucca’. In the meantime, Madhav, Shreya’s brother, asks Shreya to relax when she reacts to being ‘put on display on a matrimonial website’. He says, ‘you’ve got to leave it to us to find a good match’. Everything here is as it still happens in countless homes, and at this point Shikha impresses us with this realistic portrayal. This portrayal, however, eventually becomes disturbing.

What Shikha has also managed successfully is to give this book a movie feel, which instantly takes her novel into the mass-appeal category. I may not fully be a part of the ‘mass’ I speak about, but I can see how happily this ‘love story’ will be received by those who like happily ever afters. The days of dramatic reckoning that Shreya and Kunal spend as man and wife are seeped with emotional outbursts, dialogues, celebrations and temple visits straight out of Karan Johar flicks from the 90s. We have a gala Reception, a Karvachauth, a Mata ki Chowki, an ‘iconic dialogue of Kajol’ from ‘DDLJ’, a hero desperate to ‘make it happen that night’ and pulling shirt buttons out for his wife to sew, a man being the boss with his wife in office, a nick-of-time drive to the railway station to stop her from leaving and a swanky honeymoon to bring it all together. There is a short steamy performance in a satin nightdress too. The free-willing role that parents and even extended families play in sorting our very personal marital issues has also been duly portrayed in a good-humoured way. In short, the book is full of exactly the masala that we like to watch on the silver screen, and which I think will contribute to the enjoyment factor of this book for many readers.

Helping this is the language used, which is meant for easy reading, without working hard on descriptions of the pretty kind. You may notice the fickle use of Hindi terms like ‘bhai sahab’ in some places and ‘ma’am’ in other similar contexts, errors like ‘reverted back’ and the biggest word of the book ‘bellicose’ strangely in Sandhya’s mouth. However, the language remains simple and unpretentious and extremely suitable for the story of the book.

But then …

Since the blurb educates you about everything the book has, you expect some memorable moments and characters to go home with. Memorable moments there are, but beyond the song-and-dance growth of true love are some very thought-provoking character portrayals. Call me an over-thinking over-reacting idiot gunning down the romance here, but I am nothing if I have not leaked every drop in my mind. Here are some things which baffled me. 

Shikha’s book began on a note that reminded me of Austen’s classic, but while in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ the characters rose beyond their times in order to mark a break from regressive thought through intelligent thinking, everyone in this book seems to enjoy the time warp. So much so that at many points of the book I failed to realize that this was one written by a professional working woman in the 21st century. 

Shreya agrees to Lasik surgery because Kunal tells her in their first meeting that he doesn’t like spectacles. She readily agrees to Madhav’s advice that ‘you should look more like your profile picture … not to disappoint Kunal’. Later, when Kunal gives her a list of sadistic vows to follow as his wife, she is ‘terrified’ and as a classic case of feminine guilt, decides to suffer it out and ‘remain deaf, blind and even dumb’. Why? Ex-IIM, liberal-minded and scared of a man who wronged her first in the past and is even now being a rogue? Would you have room left for ‘admiration for Kunal’s expertise’ at work if he treated you like a pariah at home? 

Mid-way, she finally decides that he needs to know what ‘being a Woman is all about’. What does she do? Apart from being sassy, Shreya changes her wardrobe to ‘ATTACK!’ Kunal’s senses with her irresistibility. (Even the author calls her ‘correctly dressed’ on a certain card party day after she has modernized her look.) Why is it only her ‘battle half won’ and to be won fully? Why does she need to get irresistible for him? And Kunal’s reaction? A helpless man with a cushion pressing down in his lap! While her ‘selfless and pure love’ makes Kunal ‘rise in love’ and see his wife for what she is, we realize his temper problems and impulsive behaviour have been temporarily tamed and generously excused. All in all, both of them may be ‘qualified’ but they do not come across as mature. Why else would they work thus to resolve a problem that was just a hammering-away-the-past bedtime discussion away? 

To be honest, I really liked Saloni, Kunal’s model ex-wife who he finds ‘immature’ for wanting to continue with ‘stupid assignments … at least respect the fact that you are married now’. She seems to be the only woman who wants to work, sees nothing wrong with smoking or smoking hot clothes, sticks to her own ideas of self and seems in with the times that the readers of this book live in. By showing her a typically scheming vixen in the end I thought Shikha did not treat her right. Sandhya as a mother was well-done, except the unnecessary impolite-streak that she was given at Shreya’s new home. Some of the scenes between mother and daughter were touchingly done. 


I realize that a lot of ideas which don’t sit well with the kind of women I know on various media and fora are not just being portrayed but also endorsed in the book. While the story is filmy and may entertain, none of the characters shine through - neither in wit nor in intelligence. Perhaps Shikha did not want to add an element of seriousness to the book by making bare their real mental conflicts to do with something as serious and as life-changing as marriage. She does add a preachy note on relationships in the last few pages, and acknowledges God ‘as a perfect match-maker’ making you wonder if she means the match-making and travel sites that the book is advertising, and the role of a plush honeymoon in getting two hearts together. 

Shikha aimed to write a light-hearted love story with a happy ending, and if you can ignore what my over-thinking nutty head could not, it will be exactly that for you – an easy, filmy, happy-go-lucky ‘love story’.

Title: He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him
Author: Shikha
Publisher: Vitasta

[This review was commissioned by the author. All views are my own.]

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Winter Sun

I began typing this sitting outside my son’s school, waiting for it to get over for the day. As always, I was the first parent to arrive, because I am yet to get over the look in his eyes when he sees me as the first person at the classroom door. Before any other ma or papa or driver uncle. I like it that way, so I make sure I leave home a little early and catch his face lighting up before the crowd catches up with our special moment.

Today, though, I was exceptionally early. There were 65 minutes to go before I could get up from this plastic chair under the tin shed and walk up to his class to take him home. Who knew the part of the Ring Road that was squeezed by the Metro workers for months would be thrown open to traffic. What a relief really to have a full road, but still … how much can I just sit and look around now? And look around at who? Or what?

But then, have eyes had time and had to look around. 

The recess had just got over. While the bell announcing the end was met with a loud uproar, a sudden silence was descending over all visible parts of the school. Much like how a dry dupatta falls off the clothes line on the first floor and comes gliding down. In no real hurry but getting there. The silence. The breeze felt nippy. I tightened my stole around my shoulders, hid my hands inside, and re-crossed my legs for the 14th time. Some minutes must have gone by, when I heard a screech loud enough to make the bus driver in the far corner of the parking area turn, and make me look up from fidgeting with my phone.

The guard at the main gate had dragged his chair two meters away from the post and was now sitting in the sun; the metallic letters on his shoulders making tiny reflected moons on the nearby tree. And his face? Gloriously snug and warm. Seconds later, as if it was a sign I was waiting for, I did the same. I shifted my own grey chair right on the shadow line where the tin roof’s shade ended and a sea of sunlight began. 

To describe what I felt when I re-crossed my legs for the 15th time, this time in the sunlight, is impossible for me. It did not feel like first love, no, but certainly like the first warm kiss of the season. I knew that the dark blue top would absorb too much too soon and I will have to relocate, but who worries about teething babies on their honeymoon night itself? I still had a lot of time on my hands, but at least my hands were in the sun now. I looked at them. I ran my left thumb over the slightly visible veins on top of the right hand. Like a ship breaking through pieces of ice, tiny brown wrinkles of collected skin formed. Dryness, despite the lotion. That’s when a scene from my childhood scooped me away from the present …

It either used to be petroleum jelly, which one of her NRI sons brought for her, or mustard oil. Most of winters you would find her rubbing either of those on her arms and feet. My grandmother. My dad’s mother who would enjoy the winter sitting on a folding bed in the tree-lined back yard, and always in the sun. More than the gold bangles it was the patterns on her wrinkled skin that held my childish attention. If I think now, I would say they looked like hexagons made from the most delicate glass. They shone so bright. So thick the layer of oil, so thin the skin. Once done, she would call for her sacred book and its exquisite wooden stand and go oblivious to the world around her, a world which was making its own life around the winter sun.

The older children, with their backs towards the brightness because young girls just didn’t want to get tanned, would be busy with their school books. Winter holidays never came without home work! One of us from the middle rung would be seen helping an aunt spread the orange peels and amla slices on newspapers. To dry. In another sunlit patch, empty plastic jars would sit agape, to be ‘dry-cleaned’ to hold this winter's pickles. Pickles too would be basking in their preserved glory a safe distance away from the two youngest imps throwing mud around, digging the flowerbeds and burying broken idols hoping for a temple to grow. At least one pair of just-washed sneakers would lean against a wall, snoozing in the sun, much like the writer of this post would right after lunch and just below her favourite mango tree, with a shawl on her head because some falling leaves can have tiny bugs on them, plus those fruit flies ... 

There was so much happening in the Sun back then, that the Sun just couldn’t have got bored for the day. Today, I sit wondering here in Delhi - where is the time, the space? Where are the people? And where is the full blown winter sun to enjoy? And then I answer myself – I think we bored the winter Sun away. Because even when we have such moments of free time on our hands and a bright sunny sky, we just don’t know what to do with them. 

Maybe, those bright patches of yellow sneaking in from our windows and doors or catching us unaware outside offices and schools are just asking us to see. To look closer, even if at our own hands. For who knows what streams of thoughts, what journeys into the past are waiting to happen. What bonds asking to be re-lived. And what stories knocking up there, hungry to be told. Spontaneous ones … told just as they come to mind, like this one here. Unedited for now, but a polished version of it waiting especially for him, for bedtime tonight. 

Him. My son. The one I was the first to pick, today again, and around whom my life now revolves. My sun for all seasons to come. 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Striking Good Health

I recently saw this video ‘Striker Strikes Back by Manu Singh’. Sunfeast is running a “Health is fun with Farmlite” campaign, and this short film is a part of the Farmlite Bytes Film Festival. Sunfeast Farmlite is the new cookie on the block, from ITC foods - a health-packed combo made with oats, wheat, almonds and raisins. Just imagine biting into one on this beautiful wintry morning in Delhi. Yum!

But first, the video … 

Love at first sight it was when I saw good old Carrom making an appearance thus. I played this game donkey's years back, in times which were free from gadgetry and full of at least four free kids from the neighbourhood who wanted to ‘strike’ around and win the pinky Queen. As if that was not enough to jettison me down memory lane, the voice over in the sepia-coloured video reminded me of those conical shaped carts cycling around and announcing anything from the circus in town to the latest Bollywood flick running in the cinema hall. If you watch it you’ll see it’s quite a creatively done video.

What is even more creative is the way our Carrom is used to make a point – about Health, and how fun activities can make us fitter and more efficient at the tasks we have set our hearts to do. It takes the 82 kg striker, who is lovingly called Dubey ji, three attempts to get the Queen, despite the ‘tez shuruwat’. The Queen sits lamenting with an ‘Offo!’ as to when Dubey will get fit enough to deliver her from the black and white coins which surround her. Dubey ji does get fit, for after all he has ‘exercised’ three times over to reach her, in the warm-up process going from 82 to 72 and finally potting her.

What an innovative way to drive home the point that getting healthier can be made fun too. That some activity, any kind, is better than becoming one with the couch and the television remote. 

Take for instance the pot-pourri that my own house is. 

A fussy eater Nursery-goer who only understands taste and not health needs clever clog parents to magic food which looks wow, tastes wow-er but most importantly hides nutrients inside. A husband who for the most part of the day works sitting in one place, but who has married passion and health in the form of cycling. So every morning he paints the foggy streets of New Delhi red, for a score or more in kilometres. And the woman of the house? Well, apart from making circles running around her two boys, she makes sure that she moves her lazy bum enough – whether it is to walk around and read, dance and do her daily chores or to go real dancing with the boys. Oh, and on the consumption of unhealthy foods keeping a strict eye!

In our own ways we find time and resources to keep our bodies well-oiled, which is not to say with dollops of ghee on every chapatti. It’s good to research and know about healthy foods, reject unhealthy habits often passed down as old-age ‘wisdom’, follow a feasible workout regime and not be negligent of developing signs of medical problems. As a parent, it’s heartening to see how parents today are much more conscious of giving their kids the right food. It seems the parenting ideal now includes a holistic idea of good health, and not the deceptive ‘healthy’ by weight. 

Equally good to know is that the food industry is working with similar ideals. For like a wise woman now says – We are all but strikers in a game of carrom. To play our parts, we need to ultimately strike back’.

Right, Dubey ji? 

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

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