It starts on a jarring note. A girl in Amritsar, working in a beauty parlour is narrating her story in English. It's just not the kind of story I thought I'd be reading. It could be one of those new TV serials catering to tier-two cities with gaudy clothes and conspiracies and too many twists in the tale. But there's nothing dramatic about Rani and her life. She could well be the girl giving you a pedicure in your neighbourhood parlour and the only conversation you ever had with her was about the colour of nail polish you prefer.
Slowly the setting absorbs you as the author meticulously describes Rani's cramped house and simple life. Small misfortunes add to the daily pressure of survival, bringing out the worst in some people and pushing others deeper into their shell of loneliness and disbelief. Relations sour, forcing Rani to take the giant leap - she leaves home.
It's too big a leap for the story, leaving the plot twisted and the reader irritated. There's a sudden rush of stereotypes, the party animals, the pseudo-intellectuals, the PR circuit. The kind of people who blow up eighteen thousand rupees on one party - exactly the amount of money that turned Rani's life upside down. Is this about the injustice and irony of life?
Then there's Sadhna, Rani's new employer, also a single woman, a storyteller dismissed as a one-book wonder by some in the publishing industry (the author herself, as some suggest?). A stalled author struggling with her second book. The women connect at some level and empathise. And the reader is subjected to Sadhna's story, her personal struggles and disconnect with the world. How she thought writing would be about sincere ideas and literature but is actually about networking and smart marketing. Why this sub-plot? This juxtaposition of two women from different social backgrounds but similar sensibilities doesn't make the story more subtle and layered, if that was the idea.
And then fate deals another harsh blow to Rani. She seeks escape in work, in the almost meditative act of shaping perfect eyebrows.
The book is very readable, the author is at ease with the language and the subject but given the critical acclaim her first book received (which I haven't read, by the way), this book was disappointing.
Book: Tell me A Story; Author: Rupa Bajwa; Publisher Pan Macmillan; Price Rs 499