TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 October 2018
Funny, observant and wise, this is storytelling at its most irresistible.
It has only been two weeks since she wrapped all work on her début novel, Pyjamas Are Forgiving, and already she does not know what to do with herself. “I’m feeling lost,” she says, damp-haired and scrubbed face, sipping on the day’s first black coffee. “[Writing the book] was like having a backup. Like if I was at a boring dinner, I could always pop into this world. I think I miss chewing on something constantly.”
A similar sense of restless wistfulness apprehends Anshu, Pyjamas’ protagonist, a wry, plump divorcee in her 40s — but for different reasons. When we meet her at Shanthamaaya Sthalam, an Ayurvedic spa in Kerala that she has been coming to biennially for years. She is having trouble sleeping and is counting on the retreat’s stringent regimen of ghee-pulling, deep-breathing, sattvic eating and lymphatic massages to set her right. But the unexpected arrival of the ex-husband she is still not over, along with his young new wife, threatens to throw her doshas all out of whack, as it dredges up all the desires and disappointments she has long repressed.
The novel is Khanna’s third book in three years, after the non-fiction Mrs. Funnybones, which was modeled on her wildly popular Times of India column of the same name; and The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, a collection of short stories. In this time, she has also managed to squeeze in producing and globally promoting Pad Man, the Bollywood film adapted from one of those short stories, based on the life of menstruation activist and entrepreneur, Arunachalam Muruganantham. She continues to package the Indian zeitgeist in sharp, toothy morsels in her fortnightly column — first for DNA Afterhours and now for TOI — since 2013. All of this quite apart from the magazine covers, speaking engagements, awards and endorsements this second wave of celebrity has brought with it.
At the real-life Ayurvedic retreat that inspired Shanthamaaya Sthalam, Khanna discovered her dosha constitution: “a precise half pitta-half vatta. Fire and air. Pitta is very determined; vatta is scatterbrained, creative, you leap between different things,” she says. This is easily observable of her, even if you only take into account the recent past.
The book makes for a snappy read and offers frequent glimpses of Khanna’s potential with the longer form. She has a flair for setting and mood; the severity of the Shanthamaaya purge is told through the uttappam-ogling hunger of its participants who are weak from unstoppable diarrhea, the anticipation of a shaky phone signal at the ramshackle bar down the road. The plot, too, unfurls in interesting and unpredictable ways; and if allowed to immerse in her roiling interior life, you might even start to feel a little protective of its heroine.
But then come the volleys of metaphors and witticisms — fun in an 800-word column; wearying in a 220-page novel. Anshu is too often indistinguishable from Mrs. Funnybones, issuing fully formed, culturally up-to-date rejoinders nearly all of the time. “My editor has chopped a lot of my metaphors and thrown them in the deep blue sea!” Khanna protests, but a little later admits, “I want people to be entertained, that’s my weakness.”
Young-hearted women past their (socially-prescribed) prime are Khanna’s favorite subject. Like the senior siblings of Salaam, Noni Appa (another short story from Lakshmi Prasad that was adapted into a play directed by Lilette Dubey last year), one of whom finds love with a younger married man. Or like Anshu. I could easily see Pyjamas being adapted for the stage, too. The confined setting, a wisecracking lead wreathed in sadness, a supporting cast of gays, gurus, millennials and reprobates, each repping a social hot topic — feminism, communalism, LGBTQ rights, the #MeToo movement. And some illicit sex for good measure.
The vocabulary is simple and stories are short and to the point. the narration is both humor and empathy which is a trademark of Khanna’s storytelling and yes truly it makes the book a gripping one. talking about the cover it totally depicts a story of the inside which is indeed even the title of the book and is sweet and simple with hues of graffiti and extravagant colors. sometimes the book may seem like a drag and a plot a bit boring, but the captivating narration and the emotional attachment to the protagonist seem to overcome the drag.
the book is a short read and would bring out your emotions from the core of your heart and would even stir down your own revolutionary ideas and feminism even as in each story a woman is the dynamic force of change. It must have been hard work for the author to collect and compile these stories from all over the country. But, we are glad that she did. I would recommend the book to each and every one, especially women, go grab a book now.