The Pleasure Seekers
By Tishani Doshi
Reviewed by Kiran Manral
In the slew of post colonial Indian writing in English, there are some works that make you sit up, pause and slow down your pace of reading so you savour the work to its fullest. Such a novel is Tishani Doshi’s debut novel The Pleasure Seekers.
A gentle, tender, evocative tale, based partly on her parent’s love story and her childhood, The Pleasure Seekers tells us how a Gujarati Jain boy from Chennai fell in love with a gap toothed Welsh girl in London and how they defied all odds, including an enforced separation by the boy’s parents to get married. And how, in the 1960s, the Welsh girl, Sian Jones, gave up the life she knew in order to live in India with Babo and become the perfect Indian bride. The novel moves on through their life, with the birth of their two daughters, Mayuri and Bean, Mayuri being the sensible one, and Bean, the imaginative, reticent child. As is mandatory in a story about Indian families, the extended family does play a vital role in the novel, with every character being fleshed out with empathy, insight and humour, whether it is Babo’s mother Trishala or his siblings, or Sian’s parents. Or even Babo’s grandmother Ba, who is a saintly presence, with powers of precognition that make her larger than life, or even Ignatius, the hermaprodhite who is etched sensitively, rather than made into a caricature of his type which so often happens when authors try to write about this community. As is appropriate to a story which spans four generations, the narrative has a larger than life, carnivalesque feel to it, with the levity being taken forward by the use of wonderful nonsense words at the end of some paragraphs, like for instance, “Ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-boom-boom-boom,” Doshi’s sense of humour grows on one, with sudden bursts of levity even in situations which demand grimness, as when Babo’s father is trying to talk him out of his determination to marry Sian, and his mother Trishala is "perched outside the door all this time like an elephant trying to hide behind a potted plant, let out a squeal: a high-pitched wronged-mother squeal." The part of the children’s growing up years in Chennai is written beautifully, any adult will immediately get transported back to the days of his or her youth, with weekends on the beach, ghost sightings, and such like.
Beneath the superficial layer of the actual narrative is the underlying question of identity and belonging, that the children face being the result of a union between two people from different religions, races, cultures and countries. The hybridity is what makes these children different from the other children they grow up with in Madras, in the house with the orange and black gate. The country too goes through its incidents of historic significance as the narrative unfurls, Bhopal, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Gujarat earthquake et al. To the delight of the reader, magic realism is part of the narrative, but in touches just so minute as to be credible and not detract from the main theme of the novel which is the story of a family.
The book warms the cockles of your heart, and is determinedly droll and cheerful even through the old age and ill health of the characters. Tishani Doshi’s forte as a poet comes through in her prose, which is as lyrical as it is gentle and tender. Language takes on musical cadences, and prose becomes poetic. And the chapter titles are by themselves worth a read on the own. This, is, a brave new voice in the flood of new Indian writers writing in English.
Published by Bloomsbury
Price: Rs 499/-