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AADISHT KHANNA
LEFT OF COOL

Left of Cool abandons the respectable and the popular, and turns its gaze to the odd and wonderful.

Taking on the Bhagat: In pursuit of the perfect Indian parody

ans of the bizarre in all its manifestations are probably familiar with parody musician Weird Al Yankovic, whose singles include Star Wars-themed parodies of American Pie and The Kink's Lola. Perform this Way, a parody of Born This Way that's about Lady Gaga, and a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit that is all about Nirvana's incomprehensible lyrics and Cobain's mumble.

At one point it used to be said that you hadn't really arrived as a popstar or rockstar unless Weird Al thought you were fair game for a parody. This was before iTunes and Twitter, so now presumably you arrived as soon as you trend worldwide for at least twenty four hours.

What if we apply this rule to books, and specifically Indian books? As far as Indian writing in English is concerned, there have been very few parodies — possibly because no book ever published in English has sold enough to support parodies as well — at least, until Chetan Bhagat entered the scene.

Enter Judy Balan.

Last month, I found a book titled Two Fates: the Story of my Divorce in the Bangalore airport bookshop. Examining it, I found it was about a Punjabi man and a Tamil woman who, having got married, now wanted to divorce. Grinning like a maniac, I purchased it and decided to see how well the parody worked.

Thankfully Judy Balan forgoes Chetan Bhagat’s writing style, and sticks to remixing plot elements of Two States. So we have the Punjabi-Tamil couple, IIM Ahmedabad, spiritual awakening on East Coast Road, and dowry issues — but all of these are subverted gleefully.

Parodies are tricky things to get right. The parodist has to bring in something new, while keeping enough of the original — too much of the original, and all you get is loud mimicry of the sort found on Hindi 'comedy' television. Not enough of the original, and it's less a parody than a set of barbed homages. Moreover, what part of the original should be retained? The plot? The characters? The writing style?

hankfully Judy Balan forgoes Chetan Bhagat's writing style, and sticks to remixing plot elements of Two States. So we have the Punjabi-Tamil couple, IIM Ahmedabad, spiritual awakening on East Coast Road, and dowry issues — but all of these are subverted gleefully. The couple is already married and now wants to get divorced, they drop out of IIM Ahmedabad, the spiritual awakening is more of a brainwashing, and both bride and groom are thrilled at the idea that their families will be giving them a new Honda. The narrator is the Tamil woman, not a Punjabi boy; and she is exasperated at her husband's ambition of quitting and becoming a full time novelist, feeling that he should leave the writing to the arts graduate in the family.

She also brings much more to Two Fates than Bhagat brought to Two States. The characters are more than just representatives of their regional stereotypes, and the plot is romantic comedy rather than 'Why can't we just be Indians' romantic melodrama. Romantic comedy is a genre where it's very easy to fall into cliché, and Two Fates doesn't completely avoid them, but it was still fun enough that my response was to keep reading, not to roll my eyes. It's not quite Wodehouse, but then it's far from being Hollywood too.

My complaints with the book were not so much with the romcom cliché, then, as with the episodic nature. For almost half the book, every chapter follows the same template: the couple is determined to tell their doting-upon-each-other families that they want to get divorced, but are foiled by wacky circumstances. All of the episodes do come together at the end, but this does begin to drag in between. My other complaint is with the grammar and editing — mocking engineer-novelists loses force when you commit an error as basic as using 'would' instead of 'will' — twice, at that.

But at least Indian English writing has matured to the point where it finally has its own parodies. Now if only it got more editors.

 

Two Fates is published by Westland-Tranqebar.

 
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