Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Book Review – Sorting Out Sid by Yashodhara Lal



I began by taking a little liberty. I took the title as an open invitation from the author to sort out Sid – for her and with her. What did I find? 

Reading ‘Sorting Out Sid’ is like finding your long lost twin in the World Book Fair – for the young, modern, urban, educated, married, working in a metropolis reality that it shares with you. The book is a story well-woven and told, around a protagonist who draws at our hearts’ strings. Equally capable is Sid of driving you crazy, for he will rise to such depths of stupidity you scream S.O.S. from his idiosyncrasies, or for him from the women who surround him! Maybe even shake him by the shoulders and scream - ‘What are you doing, Mr. Toilet Cleaner?’ 

Here are the bits about the book that stayed with me.    

2 sides to the same coin Sid 

The mind that is Sid’s is crafted and expressed by this female author as if she were a man herself. Skillful use of language plays an important role in that. 

Now, I spotted a Public Performer Sid and a Private Thinker Sid. While the former is the life of every party, the latter gives a dimension to the book that you did not expect to find – Pathos. 

The Performer Sid endears instantly with a misplaced ‘So! When is the baby due?’ just because he spots a belly. ‘Putting on an act wasn’t all that difficult’ and as ‘tiring’ as it may be, he likes to be the life of any party. When in office it’s ‘time to switch on Work Sid’ and no matter what thoughts occupy his mind, everything is ‘Fine, FINE’. Add to this the husband Party-Sid, Arty-Sid and Host-Sid and you know dear Sid has his hands full. Half-way through the book/“sorting” and sitting in the VP’s office we find a ‘bold new and decisive Sid who did not need anyone’s permission for anything’. While Neha still feeds his love for ‘an attentive listener' Sid seems to have come into his own. Part III and many battles later Sid openly snaps at his friend Aditi an ‘it’s not your business’ in his voice, the one from inside. Mandira too is told to ‘stop giving me relationship advice now’. But even now he muses ‘he was losing his touch – the mask slipping would mean the end of everything’. The Performer Sid does not want to die, even if his laughs metamorphose into ‘series of … muffled wheezing wails’. Even though he ‘too was a manly man’ by the end of the book, with a voice and choices, never before nor now did he wash his dirty linen in public or pass judgements. Why, he even defended the HR Vixen. Very telling indeed!  

But if we scratch the surface ever so lightly and dig deeper we meet the Private Thinker Sid. 

Sid has more than one Achilles’s heels. Self-doubts rule supreme. Meeting new people and driving at night make him nervous. He silently wishes ‘he could have made it to 6 feet’ apart from semi-rejecting Mandira’s idea of his ‘weak chin’. His baby-face he thinks earns him lesser respect than his age deserves and Aditi’s ‘good boy’ gnaws at his innards. He wants to be taken seriously, but can the Performer Sid allow that? And then, his marriage falling apart starts showing as he hopes for a phone call that ‘Maybe his day was finally about to turn around’. We see how this ‘maybe’ tails his thoughts throughout the book, however, things run their own course to sort out and sort him out too. A sadness lurks around Sid’s persona now. Even as he sips beer singing, ‘Come here my dear, you are so near … please have no fear, I love my beer’ one senses how much he cares about home, but how he continues to perform, to his own self now. To be able to ‘speak without being judged’ is his dream, and a ‘goodnight … Mandy’ still whispered as he sleeps on Brownie. He stays with his thoughts, mostly confused ‘he didn’t think he was short in providing her with love – or had he?’ Even though we do not see him sitting and sorting it out with Mandira, we find him addressing these questions in his mind. Sid’s thoughts also tell us how sensitive he is. ‘He would be divorcing her whole family now’ and that saddens him. He continues to feel ‘every bit of her hurt and embarrassment as if it were his own’. And despite becoming a VP, even as he continues to say ‘Good. GOOD’ he wonders - ‘where was that feeling – of excitement, of happiness … of something besides this numbness?’ Despite all the nasty things Aditi says to him ‘his ears were still ringing from all the horrible things he had said to her. What was wrong with him?’ As quick to feel sorry as wallow in self-doubt, if only Sid expressed his thoughts to the people surrounding him, perhaps he would have lived a more sorted life. 

Perhaps! 

Depiction of Marriage, and some Real Questions 

The book contains more than one ‘kind’ of marriage. However, it is Yashodhara’s depiction of Sid and Mandira’s marriage, as well as reasons for their failures that touched me as poignant. 

Sid and Mandira are two poles. Her ‘military precision’ and Sid’s love for Brownie do not meet at a golden mean. Things worsen till Sid bitterly thinks how ‘talking never sorted out anything for anybody’. Is not lack of communication a major factor for driving so many marriages to the docks? Sid attempts to ‘gross out’ the motherly women around him, certainly enough to slam doors of any serious conversations. Sid, like so many, shirks advice and in the process, the reality of his own situation. Then, his not being ready for a child yet thinking to himself – ‘Maybe it wouldn’t have been all that bad – after all he was great with kids. But since she had ranted and raged … he stayed firm with his ‘not ready for a child yet’ stance’ makes it seem like a childish defiance, on Sid’s part. After 15 years of marriage, Mandira failed to see the repressed play-acting Sid and Sid, too busy with his roles, perhaps failed at addressing Mandira’s deep-founded worries of age and a wish of becoming a mother someday. ‘The Dead End’ they reach makes us realize their “contributions” to it. Sid’s ‘it’s my marriage that has been flushed down the drain – the very reason I took up the toilet company job. Ironic, isn’t it’ simply makes us nod our head at the sad irony.  

Parents – the quirky but loving Constants 

The most beautifully woven relationship that the book carries for me is the one that the young characters share with their parents. The detailing is done so honestly, yet sensitively. ‘Your mother’s very upset was his father’s code for ‘I am very upset’ and his father’s ‘It’s expected’ is a phrase that irks Sid, and reminds us of so many fathers. Maybe our own too? Parents continue to occupy our minds just as Sid remembers his father ‘whacking the daylights out of him’ when he bit his mother as a child. As an adult, ‘his privacy invaded in such a blatant manner’ by his visiting parents is a guilty-thought the readers share. But Sid ‘could tell they were mystified and hurt, and appeared to find solace in his bedroom’ and we realise how we children, no matter what, understand them. Family does mean parents to Sid when he leans back on his new VP chair, single again. ‘Oh God … was it possible that he was actually missing his parents?’ But it’s a fact that he does not want to admit. Again, like so many of us.

Sid’s feelings for his mother are sheer beauty. Just by keeping her hand on his arm ‘he knew what she was saying – you can tell me anything, son. I’m your mother’. His irritation is because ‘he could never hope to pay her back’ and how his parents continue to be ‘so … from another planet altogether … stuck in a time warp’. Your thoughts about yours too? When he breaks the news of his divorce to his mother over the phone, ‘as usual, she was offering to protect him … it was obvious she would try to do this till the end of her life’. His father over-eats gulab jamuns, his way of trying to ‘drown his sorrows silently in sugary syrup’. These 3, we realize, are perhaps the most important threesome that Cynthia was talking about. In the parents are ‘polar opposites … one would think … over the course of about 40 years of togetherness, balanced out one another’. They are married. Sid and Mandira are not any more. Is their time-tested value system of making-it-work something the author is quietly endorsing here?      

Just so between Neha and her mother, who 'managed to get under Neha’s skin’ pointing out lifestyle flaws or safety lapses in her house. She was just ‘paranoid about everything’ but Neha realized ‘she meant well’. Neha says it all when she says ‘you think things change with our parents after we become parents, like somehow we start appreciating them more?’ 

Quirky or not, children find in their parents unconditionally caring constants in a world of uncertain situations - in the book as well as around it. 

Easy wit and delightful humour 

And look how serious I got trying to sort out Sid. So involved, that I absolutely forgot to mention how the author, with her delightful wit, kept me from permanently sinking into a well of pity for Sid. While the book is about serious issues, the wit the author commands keeps us from getting our ‘kerchiefs out. If we do, it is only because we are misty-eyed with laughter. I had smileys in pencil adorning most of the pages, and I had ‘Ha ha!’ scribbled in the choicest of places. 

Sid congratulates Neha ‘for having … delivered so well’ and gloats over Meenakshi’s extra attention ‘perhaps his innate animal magnetism had finally struck her’ making me smile. ‘And where there is beer, there was hope’ and did I catch you smile too? ‘Trusssst in meeee, jusssst in meeee’ and on the floor I rolled, while Akash’s entry in office through a ‘secret sports quota’ made me wonder the same for my colleagues. Cynthia’s ‘another card with a picture of some dude who apparently went by the handle Archangel Michael’ was guffaw-funny and did you know an ‘executive washroom, posh and clean … is Vee-Pee’? I am yet to get the image of Sid holding Kippy in his lap out of my mind. Or of Sid’s heart sinking when Shiv ‘rose to shake his hand … and kept rising … further … and further’. The cherry on the cake is Sid’s ‘Have found her here with a guy. Come quick!’ When you read it, tell me if this was not funny, what is! It is only Mandira’s sense of humour that had ‘died a sad death over the last few years. And one has to be respectful for the dead’. Well, amen!

There is an interesting juxtaposition of serious with funny. Like, an instant easing of tension. 

One minute we see Sid musing over Mandira and EMIs and another sentence down he ‘realised it was rather unmanly to be using his wife’s Dove Shower Gel and loofah’. Remembering a heated discussion about having a child or not is quickly replaced with ‘felt like replacing her Coalgate toothpaste tube with a tube of Odomos’. In the saddest monologue Sid shares with the bean bag the ‘you’re never going to sleep with my wife. Or leave me without a knife’ makes us smile.

Just as Sid dilutes situations for himself by waxing funny, the author does so, to keep us hooked to this reality, without turning it into a melodrama. Thus, the tone seamlessly shuttles between serious and funny.     

That Thing Called Closure’, but I am not satisfied

I am happy to hear Sid say ‘Im still … sorting myself out. You know? Work in progress’, much like Neha’s paintings. And Neha add ‘we’re all still figuring it out’. But what left me uncomfortable was the treatment meted out to Mandira as a character. A blanket rejection of her seems to come through, and I wonder why. Why is she the unspoken one, ignored without a second thought, when every other character has found a place in the scheme of things – whether through forgiveness or through forgetting? (Yes, even Neha's ex!) I wish the mind behind those ‘dark circles’ she develops by the middle of the story was shown to us, or given a fitting farewell. For after all, she was Sid’s wife and the reason around which Sid remoulds himself, or unfolds the drama that he is. 

A telling thought that stuck to my mind came from the mouth of a minor character, Krish, which defines my idea of the book – ‘If you don’t find yourself difficult to live with, you’re unlikely to find anyone else difficult’. And by the end of the book, ‘for the first time Sid felt that taking complete responsibility wasn’t a burden. In fact, it brought an incredible sense of freedom.’ 

Sorting out Sid’ is a quick-stepped narration that trots the story forward, a real story we can spot in our own milieus. A reality so real, either from our own life or from our neighbour’s. So real, it makes you become a part of the book instantly. It makes us think, as it makes us look around. And it makes us laugh out loud. Thanks to Sid and his ‘Sid-dom’, of course!

I recommend it for the strength with which it brings home the point of new-age relationships and the gentleness and delightful humour with which it does!

Title: Sorting Out Sid
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Publisher: Harper Collins
Fiction




34 comments:

  1. Such an extensive review I could find myself trying to figure out the characters. I have been noticing the book cover on the social media for a long time and ket wondering if I'd wanna read it. Let's see after your review, maybe I will pick it.

    Thanks!

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    1. Sigh, Kajal darling. Every time I tell myself 'brevity is the soul of everything' and nicely forget it when I read a book. It's a fun book about life as we see it. Sid will make you laugh out loud. Read if you can!
      And thank you for stopping by!

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  2. Ever since Rekha pointed out this book to me a while back, I've been contemplating picking this up. When I knew that you were going to review it, I decided to wait till it was up.As usual, kudos at reviewing a book without giving away too many details. I might just pick it up. After all, there is SID in the title :)

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    1. Oh, I have given NOTHING away. Sid. Even less than the book's blurb actually. :D This is just impressions, the real book is within the folds!
      Pick. This Sid is as endearing as another Sid I know. :D

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  3. nice review. it makes me more excited to grab a copy of the book. still waiting for my copy (if i get selected)

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    1. I had attended the launch of 'Sorting Out Sid' and grabbed my copy there. Hope yours reaches you soon too! :)
      Thanks for reading the review. So come back after you read the book and tell me what you think. :)

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  4. What a fabulous, painstaking review, Sakshi!!! Shabash!

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    1. Thank you, Dipali. Your 'shabash' matters. :)

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  6. Do you chew the book or read it? :) What an elaborate review!

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    1. I receive it with an open heart, and then I enter it as if I'm entering a treasure hunt. I hunt down what strikes me, chew over it and put it out thus. I like your question, Indrani. Sometimes I ask myself the same thing! :D

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  7. That was a very detailed review without really giving away the plot! I am supposed to receive a copy of it through Indiblogger soon :)

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    1. Rest assured, I did not even touch upon the plot. Hope you get your copy soon, Seeta. Would love to know your thoughts, and your thoughts about my thoughts here. :D

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  8. It is a very interesting and extensive review Sakshi and I loved it.
    I too have the book and looking forward to find time to read it...coming from Yash, I am sure it would be a fun to read :)

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    1. It is indeed great fun, Ekta. Don't forget to come back here once you are done. Would love to exchange ideas with you! :)

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  9. I have managed to wangle a copy of this book, and will be getting around to reading it sometime soon. Am sure I will like it all the more now, coz you have given such glowing recommendations for the same.

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    1. I do recommend it, Jai.
      Happy reading! :)

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  10. A thorough review I must say Sakshi.

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    1. Closer to what one can read AFTER reading the book. Geeta. My reviews are often too 'thorough' and try as I might, brevity is just not happening between books and me. :)
      Thank you for stopping by.

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  11. Wow.. What a review..!!!! Can't wait to read the book now.. :) Thanks Sakshi..:)

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  12. I do not read reviews before I pick up a book or a movie. I just look for the closing statements of the review. The title is tempting. I might just pick it up and read it soon. Will come back here to read this review once I am have done that. :)

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    1. Psst, I don't read any reviews before starting a book either. I like to receive it "untainted" :D
      Do come back, this is more a post-operative analysis than a pre-admitting one. :D

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  13. I like to know a little about the book so that I don't end up wasting my time with something that doesn't interest me. The review is tooooo good. In detail yet keeping that spark alive. I love the fact that a lady has written this book and that too from the mans perspective.

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    2. He he! I was afraid you will say 'tooooo long', which it is. But when I started writing I went on and on. Good you notice the spark is still alive. Fun book!

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  14. Love your take on Sid-dom? Is he confused about life like me? It's an in-depth analysis of the book and can't help thinking that it's worth reading on new age relationship in opposition to the conservative way of looking at relationship.
    Cheerz

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    1. Ha ha ... when I read a book called 'Sorting Out Vishal' only then I will know. :D

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  15. Wow very nice and elaborated Review. . . :)

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  16. Such an intricate dissection of the book .. wah !

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    1. I like how you put it, Puru. I shall henceforth call there 'Book Dissections' rather than reviews. For that is what these are, exactly! :D

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  17. I'm halfway through the book, sent by the publishers through Indiblogger... I enjoy the humour and the lifelikeness... but a bit too light. Anyway, let me finish it before making a judgment.

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    1. Would be great to see you here again, Tomichan, after you have read the book. To know what you think - where you agree with me and where you don't. As a reader/reviewer, I want to keep evolving!
      Thanks for stopping by!

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