Book review: Girls and the City by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Revenge of the city
A romance, some sleaze and a deluge impact the lives of three girls in Bangalore.
Manreet Sodhi Someshwar puts her character development skills up front in this story of how three women, from Unnao/ Mumbai/Chandigarh, try to hack a living in Bangalore. By the time the racy, pacy tale winds down to its conclusion, the reader has had a close look at Juhi Jha, Leela Lakshmi and Reshma Talwar, understood their compulsions, needs, desires, what makes them tick.
Even though all the protagonists are well fleshed out, Juhi-from-Unnao is quite the most interesting of the trio. Quick on the uptake in more ways than one, yet to shed her small town gaucherie completely, in equal parts horrified and hooked by some of the sights the big city is showing her, Juhi is basically looking out for herself, doing everything it takes to survive and come up trumps. Her past holds an extremely unsavoury secret but over the years, she has learned to subdue the recriminatory voice that pops up inside her head, pull a carapace of justification over it.
Leela Lakshmi, the oddity of her surname explained by her jettisoning an abusive father`s name to take on the victim mother`s, is a feisty single mother who walks her talk in life, juggling all the balls she needs to keep aloft quite adeptly, never quite drowning even when the swell of her life sometimes seems overwhelming. She is mother to a sweet little girl and anxious to keep her abusive former partner far away from his daughter.
Reshma Talwar is the straight bat character here, so to speak. She`s in Bangalore enjoying her life but missing her mother back home in Chandigarh. And it`s Reshma who starts a romance with Kieren Warrior, a dishy male of Malayali -Goan heritage.
The supporting cast of characters are all quite interesting, too: Mrs Rao, the crotchety landlady with the golden heart; Alu, Alam Kutty Thangal, Juhi`s techie nerd friend; Virat Mehta, Juhi`s sleazeball boss; Shantadurga the coconut seller who once saves Juhi from a demented attack by a flashing perv.
Things come to a head one stormy evening when the heavens open up and the rains come down. The city, with its dismayingly large number of large potholes dotting virtually every road alongside its indiscriminate felling of trees, is a sitting duck for disaster to strike every time a natural calamity occurs.
And yes, disaster does strike; a death occurs and there is a probe on, to ascertain if it is a death by accident or a premeditated murder.
The book is a smooth read except for a few cultural references that are off. Kieren would not call his Malayali father Appa, it`s more likely to be Achchan, if this New Yorker wanted to stick to tradition. He is also not very likely to be calling a `south Indian lungi` a veshti or wearing one…it`s a mundu, the dhoti Mallu men wear. Juhi from Unnao dropping a `siyapa` in her everyday converse also sounds odd.
Those points apart, the book is a sweet hat-tip to women who venture into places outside their comfort zones and do a damn good job of it, too.
Girls in the city/By Manreet Sodhi Someshwar/HarperCollins Books/Rs 399/Pages 351.