Prime Edition

Arranged Love

Parul A. Mittal

Penguin India

Pages: 234 Rs. 150

Banter and innuendo make for a teasing, breezy read

Parul A. Mittal’s second novel displays some classic traits of the mass-market brigade, but the author’s lightness of touch and quicksilver wordplay make it a winner, writes Aditya Mani Jha

ADITYA MANI JHA  8th Dec 2012

Parul A. Mittal

here are two kinds of people in this world; those who read for pleasure and those who don't. If you're wondering which one you belong to, it's the latter. If you finished your last three reads despite not particularly liking them (you just can't sleep on a loose end), it's the latter. If you've ever been even slightly embarrassed or discomfited by holding up a book to read in the Metro, it's the latter. Penguin realised the significance of the Metro novel a couple of years back; it's like the airport novel, only much more lucrative. After all, Metro commuters far outnumber the number of fliers on any given day. Hence Penguin Metro Reads, a low-priced imprint which specialises in mass-market, plot-driven, mostly romantic fiction. When it started off, most titles were priced at Rs 195, twice the price of your average Rupa/Chetan Bhagat production. Now that figure is Rs 150, within striking range of the enemy and with far superior production values to boot.

It's looking rather like a precision strike at the Rupa bastion. On top of everything else, Parul A. Mittal, the author of Arranged Love, happens to be a contemporary of Godfather Bhagat himself, at IIT Delhi. Her previous novel (which I haven't read) was published by Rupa, and was called Heartbreaks & Dreams!: The Girls @IIT (Microsoft Word has unleashed its squiggly rebellion against all three idiosyncratic punctuations in that name, and I assure my computer that not one of them is my doing). But this is neither a referendum on the rivers of unreadable goo spewed forth in the name of a 'quick, easy read' by IITian authors in the recent past; nor is it a debate about whether Mr Bhagat is, in fact, the Antichrist. This is about a book called Arranged Love.

Arranged Love features as protagonist Suhaani, an Indian post-graduate engineering student at the University of Michigan. Suhaani is introduced to us as the quintessential freebird. She has a hunky Indian-American boyfriend named Jayant Guy (a.k.a. Jay). She has a lucrative job in the offing. She has managed to keep her penchant for junk food under control, and by all accounts, seems to be a well-adjusted, vivacious person. The hard-earned equilibrium of her life is shattered when her prospective employer Lehmann Brothers goes bust during the recession. Oh, and things aren't rosy back home either; her dad sends her weird pictures of an IITian guy who he met in guitar class. The bio-data and the saccharine studio pictures are in business as the 'arranged' part of the novel's title kicks in. Suhaani's madcap plans to unceremoniously dump her suitor Deepak Goyal make up much of the initial humour. The supporting cast is affable, the impulsive, ditzy best friend Neha, and the wisecracking elder cousin Tanu, who was the narrator-protagonist of Mittal's earlier book. The only thing is, Deepak one-ups Suhaani's quips like a nerdy, moustachioed Kanye West, right down to the point where he rejects the proposed match before she can. Needless to say, Deepak also has a voice variously described as 'husky', 'seductive' and yes, 'nipple-hardening'. If all of this sounds familiar, it probably is.

This isn't the unpredictable love story it posits itself as; quite the contrary. The snazzy, street-smart path to its predictable outcome is what makes the book work.

or a book like Arranged Love, holding the sceptical reader's (sceptical if only because of what other IITians have done unto us) attention is a feat akin to Harbhajan Singh scoring a Test century. It has happened before, twice in successive matches even, but there was a method to the madness. When he slashed at a wide ball, by God he slashed hard. When he swung wildly against the spin, he jolly well swung himself out of his socks. Propriety, aestheticism and fear of failure were distant from the volatile Sardar's thoughts. Which is why Arranged Love works precisely as the beast it is meant to be; a good romantic pulp novel, the consummate Metro Read as it were. Suhaani's never-ending stream of sexual innuendo-laden banter keeps marching on with aplomb. Jay's image-obsessed, oversexed self reveals itself in a couple of quite sinister scenes. Deepak, the ace in the hole as far as Mittal's concerned; shapes up nicely as the impossibly self-assured, bordering-on-pompous IITian do-gooder with a treasure trove of KS (Knowledge of Sex, or Kama Sutra) advice. This isn't the unpredictable love story it posits itself as; quite the contrary. The snazzy, street-smart path to its predictable outcome is what makes the book work.

Arranged Love also made me laugh at some decidedly high-school jokes, penis euphemisms and the other assorted juvenilia which I might have brushed aside on another day. Sketching a brand new world with brand new rules; isn't that the classic modus operandi of the great genre fiction novels? When you're in Hogwarts, you chuckle at a bogey-flavoured sweet. When you're the sole heir of the Brahminical Kanes and you have just one nipple, your mind boggles at the fact that your deadliest enemy shares your deformity. When you're deep in the throes of Scarlett O'Hara's anguish, you don't much care how shockingly stereotypical the African-American characters are.

I do have a few quibbles with the author, of course. An era has never been, and should never be defined as 'pre-cybersex'. A novel is only allowed the word 'chiselled' or its variants so many times, even if it is the autobiography of a chisel. And if she was feeling metafictional, she should have referred to her works as 'chicklit' as opposed to 'chicklet'. But then, to channelise one of Mittal's own characters, in the very competitive world of mass-market fiction, "Bade bade shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rahti hain Senorita".

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