A large slice of cheer
Manju Jaidka

Piece of Cake
by Swati Kaushal, Penguin. Pages 367. Rs 250

Let me try to recall – when was it that I last laughed out loud while reading a book? Laughed not just once but several times? I think it was more than fifteen years ago, while reading Anurag Mathur’s bestseller The Inscrutable Americans. Since then I have not come across any rib-tickling fare. Good books there have been in plenty – of the serious, intellectual, hard-hitting, hard-thinking variety – but nothing that provokes an honest laugh has come my way. And then, out of the blue, comes this delicious little book with the so very appropriate title.

Piece of Cake by Swati Kaushal is a debut novel by an IIM Calcutta MBA who has worked for multinational companies. It brings a whiff of fresh air into a literary landscape that was fast becoming jaded, academic, and predictable. What holds the attention is the author’s total lack of pretentious claims, her no-nonsense approach, the take-it-or-leave-it attitude, and the conversational ease with which the narrative simply whizzes by, sweeping the reader along with its irresistible, irrepressible joie de vivre.

This is not to say that the book is all hee-hee-ha-ha. The storyline may not be anything extraordinary but just what you would see happening around you. Meenal, a young woman working with an MNC, lives alone and sports a lifestyle that is fast being adopted by Generation X in our country – slogging through the week, unwinding at the end of the day with a beer or something stronger, partying hard over weekends, hanging out with a crowd as bindas and fun-loving as herself. There is big money in the corporate world that they are part of, and life hurtles along at a fast pace. Caught up in the rat-race, Minal has little time to think of getting married and settling down.

Somewhere in the background is Meenal’s mother, worrying about her daughter, dreaming of a perfect arranged marriage for her, much to the daughter’s annoyance. And when the suitors do come to see the prospective bride, the encounters are hilarious. The ironic tone, the wry self-mocking humour of the author is present in every episode, whether personal or professional. This is what sets the book apart from the run-of-the-mill kind. Here is a writer who does not don the holier-than-thou garb of the preacher or the parent. Meenal is very much like the bubbly young woman one meets in the neighborhood, the new executive trying to learn the ropes of the marketing world, trying to find her place in a cut-throat scenario.

This novel gives us a glimpse of the new India that is emerging – not the India of dearth and poverty, not the India of the ordinary middle-class, but the shining, promising India of the B-school graduates with high-salary jobs and astounding perks; a generation that is poised, confident and cool, that lives by its own rules. Kaushal knows how to spin a delectable yarn against such a backdrop. Her book holds the interest of the reader from the first page to the last and there is little doubt that we will see it on the bestseller list for a while.


So it had begun. Friday evening and without notice; like a headache or a period. Damn this Yudhishter guy, condescending to drop by, like he knew I’d be home without a date. Probably a freeloader too, looking for a free meal. Well, he could think again. I raced through the shower, threw on the most repulsive outfit I could find (my baggiest jeans with missing pockets and crushed brown t-shirt from five summers ago), put my hair up in two school-girl pony-tails and pulled out my spare glasses with the tiger-stripe frames and extra thick lenses that magnified my eyes to the stuff optometrists’ nightmares are made of. I waited for the doorbell to ring, stuck my stomach out and remembered to slouch as I opened the door.

He was gorgeous. He was the man I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life with. He looked repulsed. He was taking a step back and checking the apartment number. This couldn’t be happening.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, I thought…’he began.



I ripped off the glasses and tossed them far, far away. ‘Heh, heh, these aren’t mine, heh heh, just a silly toy some kids left behind.’

He swallowed. ‘Er, maybe this isn’t a good time….’

‘Oh, come in, come in; don’t be shy.’ I grabbed his arm, yanked him over the threshold and locked the door for good measure. ‘Sit down, won’t you?’"