Happy Odds and Ends

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The Vague Woman's Handbook by Devapriya Roy, book reviewIndia has already shown that it can master the chick lit. Now it’s the turn of the Sophie Kinsella type of novel, the girl after marriage dealing with accounts. In fact Sophie Kinsella’s heroine pops up fairly often in this peppy debut novel, as does Alexander McCall Smith’s middle aged sleuth Isabel Dalhousie, so it’s good if you’ve flipped through books by both authors.

It’s a book about the friendship between a young newly married girl, Mila Chatterjee and an older woman. Mila’s just got married and has moved to Delhi with her husband Abhimanyu who is studying something strange after giving up a full scholarship to a prestigious American university. The marriage was against the wishes of both sets of parents who are in Calcutta and hence providing to prop up support system to the marriage. Mila, hoping to find money for the rent takes up a job in a Government organisation, where she meets Indira Sen, her boss, who is 52, a widow with two children and a host of credit card debts.

Mila is lost in a dreamy kind of nostalgia fuelled with Pure Magic biscuits, which author Roy quite obviously adores, with the result that she’s utterly hopeless at finding her way. Indira hankers after the comforts of life in the shape of chocolate cake and Israel body butter and wishes she could get the better of her financial situation. Both of them and their homes are well defined.

Indira is a grown woman forced to move back with her mother after her husband’s death and struggling to deal with the loss of independence, which is difficult for a chaotic housekeeper to manage. Her way of dealing with this is to bury herself in her work and treat herself to little delicacies.

Mila and Abhimanyu’s marriage, with the struggle of newly weds to set up home in the face of severe financial odds, is nicely drawn, with snatches of romance set against evening skies – though I’m not sure whether flying parrots would look pea green against a sheet of gold sky.

The book is actually a capsule of what urban India’s westernised women go through every day, worrying about parental approvals at all ages, tolerating nosy neighbours and placating mothers in law – though Indira’s mother in law is present in absence since one never sees her – and watching Friends. It’s also about having to adjust to a city that is not your own, and learning to find your place in it. And since this book is a light-hearted look at life, there are no ugly situations to be faced – the debt collectors who turn up at Indira’s door revving their motorbikes don’t really seem to be threatening – nor are there any nasty characters. Even Abhimanyu’s parents are actually just worried about their son’s welfare rather than anything else.

The Vague Woman’s Handbook is good for curling up with on a rainy afternoon or for perky company during a journey. The title is delightfully quirky and provides the right sense of atmosphere.

The Vague Woman’s Handbook by Devapriya Roy
Published by Harper Collins India, February 2011

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Vague Woman’s Handbook, The
by Devapriya Roy

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Written by Anjana Basu