Aftertaste is Namita Devidayal’s second book after the critically acclaimed debut novel The Music Room. The Music Room was a winner of the 2008 Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Award and was named Outlook Book of 2007. So with an impressive debut like that it was obvious that the reader would have higher expectations from her second book. Well, does it match up with her first book or excels we would leave that for the reader to decide! But Aftertaste proves Namita’s writing prowess and her in depth research on the subject she has chosen to write about.
Aftertaste is the story of an Indian baniya (a prosperous community) family -The Todarmals who have moved from Punjab to settle in Bombay to make their fortune. If anyone who has interacted with any baniya would know that they are known to speak the language of money. Nobody understands money or the business of money better than a baniya. So the same is with the Todarmal family. The story is more driven by the lady of the house known as Mummyji who has managed to single handedly, with her business acumen and ideas, create a huge mithai business in Bombay. What started as a way to help her husband out of his financial mess by starting a small mithai business from her kitchen turns into a huge business with her razor sharp mind. After her husband’s death she takes over the entire reign of the business and helps it grow from strength to strength.
Mummyji has four children whom she dominates and manipulates as per her convenience. The family dynamics keep changing as and when she wishes. The author takes us in detail through the entire family; we have the eldest son Rajan Papa who comes across as a weak and ineffectual person and has been sidelined in the family business because of his unwillingness to change the business as per the modern demands of Sunny the youngest son. They both have a bitter fallout when Sunny proposes to change the name of the store from Bimmo di Barfi to a more contemporary Bimz and also branch out in various areas of the city. Mummyji decides to go with Sunny’s ideas leaving Rajan Papa very unhappy. Mummyji is also very interfering in her two married daughters’ lives Suman and Saroj. Money seems to be the only driving force in their lives and Mummyji is at the center of it all. So, when Mummyji ,just before Diwali suffers a stroke everyone is in a frenzy to take charge of her money, jewels and her Swiss bank account details. Things have become so unhappy that all of them secretly want her to die.
The only thing that holds the book back at times is that the family only comes across as a set of selfish, unscrupulous, bitter people who are bound together because of their relationship. Though they are in the business of sweets on the personal front it is only an acrimonious and bitter existence. At times you have to take a break from reading the book because it ends up leaving a bitter aftertaste and you almost wish for some happiness in their lives. The book tends to drag when the author painstakingly tries to explain every single character of the book and what makes them what they are.
But overall the entire book is a fascinating insight into the lives of a baniya family of traders and small businessmen. The author’s in depth research and understanding of such a family shines through the book. Whether it is her research on the mithai business or the psychology of the characters in the book, every single bit comes across as authentic and real. Her characters are well defined, her writing style impeccable.
It is a book you would enjoy reading despite its flaws.