The Tribune - Spectrum

, February 17, 2002

Avoidable accidents
Geetanjali Sharma

Accidents like love & marriage
by Jaishree Misra, Penguin Books India, Pages 213, Rs 250

Accidents like love & marriageTHE shocking fluorescent pink cover of Jaishree Misra's novel Accidents like Love and Marriage not only irks the eye but also flashes a bright red signal: Stop. Expect non-serious handling of a seemingly frivolous but sensitive topic ahead. However, brushing aside the intuitive warning and paying heed to the age-old adage "never judge a book by its cover", you tread ahead. Unfortunately, you don't have to go far to realise that the contents merely lend volume to the pink fluff displayed on the cover.

The theme of the novel, as its title suggests, dwells on "accidents (like love and marriage), some turning out fortuitous, some not. But certainly events that could be neither planned nor controlled." So when all along the author is desperately struggling (albeit, unsuccessfully) to drive home the point that happenings like love, friendship and marriage are just accidents, they just happen to us ("we know that all it will take is another blind turning, another futile screeching of brakes, before the inevitable happens again"), it is a little confounding to read the publisher's note that says, "This hilarious tale of incompatibilities explores why we do the things we do or, indeed, why we let them happen to us." Sounds incongruous to the main idea, for nowhere does the author offer any convincing answers to "accidents", she just maintains: " They happen. They just happen to the best of us. And having let them happen, we seem to grow no wiser to them. We merely let them happen again."


The author, 40-year-old Jaishree Misra nee Nair, a Keralite who grew up in an Army family in Delhi and moved to live in England in 1993, takes the aid of three urban families - the Sachdevs, Singhs and the Menons - to weave her story and build up her argument, which at best is a weak satire on the acquisitive lifestyle of rich Punjabi families (represented here by the Sachdevs) who love to flaunt more than they possess. For whom marriages are but business transactions and who consider it outrageous to enter into a matrimonial alliance with a middle-class "Madrasan."

The characters too, like the flimsy story, fail to impress or stir you in any way. You get no deep insight into the characters, most of which fall into predictable and distinctive slots. The Sachdev family (around whom the narrative revolves) symbolises the typical rich Punjabi family. The "moneyed Punjabi types" who acquire "Rubens look-alike paintings…that would make their drawing room look more sophisticated." The family head, Jagdish Sachdev, is the standard busy, wealthy businessman who has never found a companion in his wife. For the major part of the story he is shown too weak-willed to hold his own against his haughty wife. It is only towards the fag end that he decides that there has been enough of "namby-pamby" and makes up his mind to confront her. The wife Swarn, who too is portrayed as the regular chiffon-draped, flesh-hanging spouse of a "bijnichman," has a one-point programme in life - to complain about inanities, besides, of course, her hovering-over-the-horizon migraines. "Life…life is not always easy, ji," is her constant refrain. The narrative no doubt has its share of wit and humour, but the etching of Swarn's character has been a case of overkill with repeated references to her physical attributes each time she enters the frame. "Flesh-oozing", "lugging a full 80 kilos of flesh", "Swarn's hips… are rippling over the edge of her woefully inadequate dining chair." Her "soft parts" and layers of flesh have even been driving her cook "into fits of utterly debilitating distraction" for the past 15 years. The recurrent graphic descriptions of the fantasies of the cook not only begin to sound monotonous but also hamper the flow of the story. While talking of repetitions, one would also like to mention the jarring use of "ji", which begins to sound jaded after a while. ("It has to be done, ji. Only for the sake of one's children, ji").

Coming back to the characters, Sachdevs' elder son, the meek Rohit, who is engaged in his father's business, has been married to Neena, who comes from an equally well-off family. Neena, as expected of the daughter of rich parents, shows little ambition in life. She had agreed to marry Rohit "because she wouldn't have to move out of Delhi, and because…Rohit had quite a thrilling resemblance to Imran Khan." Her parents - Kammy and Manny Singh "who have mutilated perfectly reasonable names Kamlesh and Manpreet" personify the "Punjabi Upcoming Professionals (Puppies)."

The younger son of the Sachdevs, Tarun, is yet again the predictable good-for-nothing rich guy whose sole purpose in life is to befriend girls till his father persuades him to help him in business and till he falls head over heels in love with his sister-in-law's college friend Gayatri Menon, a bright, confident, good-looking Malayali, who belongs to a middle-class family and has returned to India after completing her Ph.D in Oxford. You would have expected Gayatri to make some impression, but unfortunately, she too fails to deliver. You see this intelligent girl getting reduced to a confused mass of protoplasm when she questions her feelings for Tarun. Again, the wooing of Gayatri has been overstretched and beyond a couple of pages, begins to sound dreary and unexciting.

The Sachdev household is shown to be having a "happy scene" till Neena decides to play the "efficient", "conniving and determined Cupid" between Tarun and Gayatri (quite a departure from the accidental love that the author refers to). As expected, Swarn is against the alliance and treats the Menons "with scorn and disdain". This makes Tarun leave home and Gayatri and her parents decide against pursuing the alliance. Meanwhile Rohit, who has gone to England on a business trip, has a torrid affair with a "firangi, a white woman." The "impending doom," which has been referred to in a perplexing manner in the first chapter ("A devil unfamiliar to Swarn…curly-haired firangi was lurking in the wings of Swarn's languorous life…), had struck the Sachdeva household. Neena leaves for her parents' house and Jagdish, ashamed of his sons and fed up of his "sullen, sulky and unloving wife" leaves her to stay in a motel.

The long-drawn-out tale of the impending doom and the its culmination coming with the total disintegration of the Sachdev household fails to touch a chord or carry a higher message. Just one thought enters the mind— an exercise in futility.