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.
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
Title: He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him
[This review was commissioned by the author. All views are my own.]