Coffee @ 4.00

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 Coffee @ 4:00 by Kavita Nalawde, book reviewI can only wonder if Kavita Nalawde the writer of ‘Coffee @ 4.00‘ will consider she was lucky or unlucky when she got me as the person who volunteered to review her new e-book. On the one hand she got a reader who loves contemporary Indian literature, knows Mumbai where her story is set, and is (for a non-native) pretty genned up on Indian culture. On the other she wasn’t so lucky in getting a reader who loathes and despises the chick-lit genre and likes nothing more than looking for holes in the plot. I think it’s important that I hold up my hand and confess to both points before going any further because I don’t believe I am the type of person for whom this book was written.

I should also confess that I did rather enjoy the few hours it took me to romp through this jolly little tale on my Kindle and I would praise certain aspects of the e-book delivery. The page layout was good, it lacked many of the typos that tend to spoil e-books and the chapter lengths helped to keep the story flowing and gave the book good pace. Did I believe a word of the story or think that the writer actually knew the world she wrote about? Not for a minute, nor did I think she’d actually given too much thought to just how sordid a little tale it was.

Coffee @ 4.00‘ is a rather unusual story about three friends who – no surprise given the title – meet every week for coffee and mutual emotional support. So far you can be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit ‘Friends’- inspired. Geeta was orphaned at a young age and brought up by her uncle and his unkind wife. She made a short and unhappy marriage to a man with a serious drug addiction whom she left when he brought his boss home and told her to sleep with him. Ryan escaped his life as the son of a shop-keeper after the advent of mall-culture in his home city drove his father to alcoholism, bankruptcy and an early death. His determination to seek his fortune in Mumbai and to try to make money to dig his family out of their debts was entirely believable – how he chose to do it was less so. The third of the threesome was Ria, a sad housewife and mother married to Sunil, the Finance Director of a big company. The spark has gone out of her marriage and her friends want to help her to reignite the doused flames. All of this was revealed in the first few pages before the bombshell went off at the end of that chapter – Geeta and Ryan are high-grade escorts, people who sell sex for money but only it would seem for large amounts of it.

My bullshit detector was twitching instantly. In a city like Mumbai where sex can be bought and sold for just a few rupees, two of the protagonists have found themselves not in a slum being exploited by violent pimps and down-at-heel clients riddled with all manner of unpleasant social diseases but somehow by great good fortune they’ve landed at the top of the tree. It would be like Kerry Katona getting engaged to Prince Harry – not really terribly likely.

Geeta has crawled out of the chawl (a typically multiple occupancy Mumbai tenement block) and landed comfortably and profitably on her back on the high thread-count sheets of Mumbai’s top hotels and fine apartments just by dint of an opportune meeting with a lady called ‘D’ on a train. Do high-class madams in Mumbai go by train? I think it’s as unlikely as a poor girl hitting the jackpot. Ryan’s entry into the world of the gigolo is via his work colleague Prem, a man who shows him how to escape the life of tea-boy and rake in the cash by delivering a rather different type of ‘refreshment’ to bored middle-aged ladies. Ryan though stays sober and true to his loathing of alcohol and unlike Prem somehow manages to make a living without having to ‘bend over for the boys’. The world in which the characters move is one of spacious luxury apartments with their own workout rooms, company directors and top hotels. I’m sorry to say that I just wasn’t buying the idea of quite such meteoric social advancement.

They say that most first novelists stick to the world they know and I wondered to what degree that could be true. I can potentially believe that the author knows nice hotels and fancy apartments (although I have no biographical info to support that) but I’d stake my salary on her having absolutely no experience of the world of prostitution – high-class or not. There is you see absolutely not a jot of sex – paid for or freely given – anywhere in this book. It’s just not there. Ryan’s favourite client is a lady with whom he spends most of his time watching old movies rather than testing out the mattress. If I wrote a book set in the middle of a war zone and didn’t research weapons, military behaviour and battle strategy, it couldn’t be more obvious that I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. The ‘escorts’ go through life choosing nice clothes, hanging out at parties and going to hotel rooms or apartments with people who pay for their company but we never get anything about the mechanics of their work. Actually I’m quite relieved about that since despite reading extensively I’ve never yet come across sex in Indian novels that didn’t make me laugh or cringe or both. However those books weren’t supposed to be about the sex-trade.

The style of writing is simplistic, the plot is rather a nice gentle love story but the positioning of two of the characters in the sex-trade was just too silly for words. I’ve read that when the Julia Roberts and Richard Gere film ‘Pretty Woman’ hit the big time back in the 1990s, it spawned a generation of young girls who thought that prostitution was a glamorous and valid career choice. I fear that the sort of saccharine approach to prostitution shown in ‘Coffee @ 4.00‘ reflects a naivety about the glamour of a world that’s more typically characterised by violence, drug addiction, exploitation and power games than it is about nice clothes and fancy handbags. I read it, was happy for the characters when their lives improved but I had a nasty after-taste left in my mouth when I finished – and I don’t think it had anything to do with the coffee. Kavita Nalawde is not a bad writer but this is a bad book. I hope she won’t be completely down-heartened by my review but I would advise her to step away from the dark side and keep to a world she knows and that readers can believe in. Sensationalism won’t work unless you can really deliver the goods and nice girls really shouldn’t try to play dirty.

Thanks to author for providing a free Kindle review copy.

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Coffee @ 4.00
by Kavita Nalawde

4 Comments on "Coffee @ 4.00"

  1. Chinmay Hota
    20/01/2011 at 02:30 Permalink

    The reviewer has no idea about the Mumbai, where the story is set. He has no information about the young and upwardly mobile in the city. The reviewer says tauntingly ” In a city like Mumbai where sex can be bought and sold for just a few rupees, two of the protagonists have found themselves not in a slum being exploited by violent pimps and down-at-heel clients riddled with all manner of unpleasant social diseases but somehow by great good fortune they’ve landed at the top of the tree. It would be like Kerry Katona getting engaged to Prince Harry – not really terribly likely.” This statement may appear smart, but will elicit derision from those who have any knowledge about Mumbai.
    ‘Do high-class madams in Mumbai go by train?” wonders the reviewer. What could be a better place to scout for her resources than the local trains, where half of Mumbai converges daily.
    We have to take the review with a pinch of salt, because the reviewer has only flimsy knowledge about the setting he is writing about.

  2. koshkha
    20/01/2011 at 10:36 Permalink

    Firstly the reviewer is not a man – why do you assume that? You also assume I know nothing about Mumbai – sorry but you’re not right on that either.

    The author approached us to review her book and must take the risk that the reviewer won’t necessarily love it. I gave my opinion as a UK-based reader of the book. We are a UK site and most of our readers will not be experts either so regarding the derision of Mumbai dwellers, I frankly don’t give a stuff.

    The review is not my totally honest review – I actually thought the book was very poor but I attempted to find things to praise about it because it’s not nice to have your book trashed by a reviewer. You know what? It’s not that nice to have your review trashed by commenters either.

    I admire the writer for having the guts to self-publish (if that’s what she did) and I don’t like to be harsh on a writer’s first book. However, there is no reason at all why any reviewer should have to prove their ‘right’ to have an opinion about a book – especially one freely offered by the writer.

    Your comment doesn’t change my core complaint about this book – I still see no evidence that the writer knows about the world of high class prostitution. I’m not convinced you do either but maybe I’m wrong.

  3. Cogitol
    29/01/2011 at 04:21 Permalink

    I agree with Chinmay Hota that the reviewer does not have complete knowledge about Mumbai. She fails to understand that the life of Escorts in Mumbai may not be same as those in UK .At the same time it is a question of perception, how the people in UK perceive about Love, Sex and relationship, may not be the same as what people perceive in Mumbai. I would also like to say that when a man and a woman are together it is not always necessary that they may end up having physical relationship as in Mumbai there are people who crave for company to spend some quality time for which they actually pay money .Do not identify Escorts in Mumbai in sync with only sex
    Secondly the struggles faced in life, upbringing of a person and the values instilled are definitely different .for a person born and brought up in India in comparison to a person in UK. The reviewer may know the geography of Mumbai but does she know the trials and tribulations of a layman in Mumbai, the circumstances in which a layman leads his life .Does she think that in Mumbai prostitution and sex are associated with only slums and violent pimps .I am sorry to say but this is not the reality .

  4. koshkha
    29/01/2011 at 11:29 Permalink

    Let me repeat my key point. The author approached Curious Book Fans, a site that’s clearly based in the UK (take a look at the webaddress) to ask for her book to be reviewed. Hence it’s going to be reviewed by someone IN the UK. She has not commented or offered any feedback but is free to do so. I’ve not been asked to change anything about the review. If she’d like we can arrange a Q&A about the book; I’d be happy to do that.

    I am absolutely not going to apologise for not thinking it’s a very good book, any more than I should apologise for any differences between the UK and Indian cultures nor for not knowing Mumbai like an insider. It’s not my qualification to review a book that should be at issue – it’s the writer’s qualification to write about the world of high class prostitution which is under question.

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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