Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Beyond Indigo

Preethi Nair’s ‘Beyond Indigo’ is unabashedly a ‘chick lit’, a veritable com-com. You can make a Hollywood film based on the book, with Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in the lead. Oh, you will have to change the race of the central character, and the whole obsession about marriage. But that’s easy. It will take nothing away from the central theme of the book — a girl on the verge of giving up, discovering her talent, reclaiming her life and love and in the process also winning a coveted award. Neat.

The plot sounds too simple, too linear, and at times too cliché-ridden, that you would think you can too write a story like this. But making such a story a compelling read, like a suspense novel, is quite a skill, and Nair shows off her skills in broad brushstrokes.

What Nair achieves here is the masterful use of ‘delayed resolution’. You know what’s going to happen next. Nair also knows that her readers would guess what would happen next. So, she delays the events from occurring before it becomes inevitable. And when the event finally occurs, readers find a sense of affinity with the writer, they both guessed the same thing, they both are in the same page. It may not sound great, but it’s a remarkable skill for a writer.

The only problem I had was the caricature of the central character’s parents. Expect Nina, the narrator-heroine of the novel, no other characters have been allowed much scope for development. Yet, I found the portrayal of Nina’s parents, especially her mother, whose only ambition in life is to see her daughter get married, too much cliché-ridden. I know, marriage is the great Indian past time, still. (Then I remember, the book has been written by a London-based writer of Indian origin, targeted at the Western audience, so a dash of Indian exotica is given.) On the other hand, Nina’s ultimate love, Michael, also looks like as if he has just landed from a particularly soppy Mills and Boon romance. You know what I mean.

The story begins very much like recent Hindi film ‘Turning 30’, with Nina, a corporate lawyer, suffering a mid-life crisis. She wanted to be painter, instead became a lawyer to please her parents. Her best friend is dead. Her parents wants her to get married. Then one day she quits her job. While visiting an exhibition of French artist Henri Matisse, Nina is inspired by one of the artist’s quotes: “Creativity takes courage.” In a lurch, Nina decides to follow her dream, to paint, without telling anyone about it, especially her parents. Things complicate a lot when she finally agrees to marry an Indian guy, and invents an alter-ego for herself, a Japanese artist. And then problems after problems, solutions after solutions that read like a suspense novel.

It’s a skill to maintain the tempo in a first person narrative, and Nair does it quite well, giving the narrator-protagonist a believable voice.

Strangely, I had never heard of Preethi Nair before I picked up the book. Now, I can tell you, she has an assured voice.

(This must be a sign, as Nina experiences in ‘Beyond Indigo’: While writing this note, I came across a picture in tumblr where it was written: “Creativity takes courage.” — Henri Matisse.)

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