BOOK REVIEW: SUNDAY HERALD/PYJAMAS ARE FORGIVING by TWINKLE KHANNA
Pyjamas are Forgiving review: Not much of a twinkle
Sheila Kumar, SEP 30 2018
A tale of love and longing within the confines of an Ayurvedic spa
This is the third offering from the sharp and witty chronicler of our zeitgeist. Now, it may be an asset for the author or it may be a liability but there`s no getting away from the fact that anything written by Twinkle Khanna generates a ginormous amount of interest and expectation, and all the baggage that comes with that interest and expectation.
And so, let`s get the expectation angle done with first. While Mrs Funnybones was easily Khanna`s best work so far, there is no doubt that she is gifted with an easy facility of expression. She can be side-splittingly funny, she can be acerbic, she can be caustic, she can be warm and sympathetic, too.
However, Pyjamas are Forgiving isn’t a very funny book. It tells you about Anshu who has just checked into a Kerala spa that sounds very like that uberspa, the Kalari Kovilakam in Kollengode in Palghat district. She`s there for a 28-day detox; she`s a regular so knows the score, which at the Shantamaaya Sthalam (of all the convoluted names to give a spa!) the Ironman Triathlon of all spas, involves exchanging your civilian clothes for regulation white, turning in your phone, abjuring television or other such distractions, downing the most excruciatingly bland food, undergoing less than comfortable spa treatments, and swallowing nauseating quantities of medicated ghee.
The surprise for Anshu isn`t an in-spa one, it comes in the form of latecomers to the place: her former husband Jay and his current wife, Shalini. Anshu hasn’t really achieved closure on the circumstances in which her marriage ended, and being thrown into his company every day, isn’t helping matters much. There is a motley crew at the spa, a young performance artist, two Russians, a gay couple from Bangalore, one standard sleazeball, all thrown into the mix.
Khanna tries to tone down her characteristic scathing wit and via her protagonist, cast a more forgiving, judgment-free eye on people and circumstances. It works too, up to a point. Till the reader realises a stronger dose of humour (even judgmental humour) might enliven proceedings quite a bit. As things stand, the story moves at a predictable pace, down a predictable path. The divorced first wife is achingly vulnerable, even a bit gullible. Cads remain cads, cads who pretend to be gentlemen are outed, second wives are airheaded pieces of fluff, the gay gentlemen are wry, wise and tolerant, etc, etc.
Soon enough, Anshu and Jay are back at greedily grasping at straws from their shared past, resorting to old nicknames like Bibet and Juju. Soon enough, fresh acts of infidelity rear their head.
I liked the casual familiar mentions of urlis, naadan beef fry, moilee and the Vadakkunathan temple festivities. This is balanced neatly with the protagonist`s mother and sister proclaiming that they can`t for the life of them imagine why Anshu keeps heading off into the wilderness to this place, the name of which they can`t pronounce nor remember.
Which brings me to the point I`m trying to make. Anshu`s sister and mother hold decided opinions on virtually everything to do with her life, and try as one might not to, the images of Dimple and Rinke come to the reader`s mind. Then, Anshu`s voice really doesn’t come through, it is the author`s voice all through. Good or bad, Indians are by now familiar with Khanna`s distinctive voice. It`s as if Anshu`s characteristics, her vulnerability, are a palimpsest.
The story touches on infidelity, rape, religious obscurantism, losing a baby, living with cancer and such, but doesn`t delve too deep into any of these topics. The homilies on love, lust, need, betrayal marriage, all seen and experienced by Anshu, do sound real. To counter that, there are comparisons made, like between a woman and mango, like the linearity of time and Diwali chakris, which come off as trite and somewhat convoluted. But yes, the readers ignorant of Ayurvedic spa practices (if any such people exist) will learn all about the various treatments and what they entail. And this reader learned all about popsicle panniculitis, dimples that appear from constantly sucking on candy…no, I swear it`s in the book!
In the final analysis, you wish the trenchant commentator/compiler of our social political and economic mores had dipped her pen into some ink of the more acidic sort, and proceeded to draw up some really interesting characters.
Khanna gave us a compilation of her wonderfully funny columns for a daily in her first book; a set of short stories in her second; this, her first novel, is a light and easy read. She is clearly going from strength to strength, so the reader can expect better stuff. There`s that expectations thing, again.