There are moments when the soul recognizes what the rational mind does not. I rush in one evening into an empty bookshop, the patrons having all filed out, recognizing the “warning coughs” behind the cash counter that usher the end of a working day for the proprietor. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist .. new book ..Kiran Manral... just come out” I wheeze as I descend the steps, dodging a sullen shop assistant who is locking his cycle next to a stack of medical guides. The shop owner looks askance “Reluctant Fundamentalist? New Release?”
“Woh Joote Wali Kitab! The Book with the Boot” the assistant comes to my rescue making to towards a stack.
Book bought. Discount negotiated. I return home berating myself. Reluctant Fundamentalist? What brought that about?
Ah, but there is a connection. Like Hamid’s tale of a man taking you on a quick journey through the social landscape of post 9/11's America’s Pakistan, Kiran Manral uses a breathless narrative, the protagonist tugging at your elbow, speeding you through a mad, spiralling, series of events, opening up a world that never existed beyond a cursory nod at the They Also Occupy My Scope of Vision.
Manral uses the cunning device of a murder/mystery plot to reel us in. The quick deaths (rather murders) are but a vehicle to conduct what can be best identified as a social commentary on the Life and Times of (what the book blurb dubs as the) School Gate Mom. Who is this curious creature? The book title (in a very attention-grabbing font) might announce the introduction of The Reluctant Detective, but the book screams The Reluctant Homemaker. Who are these mysterious women amidst us who power walk the malls, nervously negotiate The Help, escape domesticity in extended phone calls to parents and ex-school mates, despair at their children, and alternate between shadow boxing and tip-toeing around the spouse? They look confident in the flesh and many a time have had me shaking in my boots in real life as they stand next to me at supermarkets, school parking lots all color coordinated, well coiffed,. But Manral through the very endearing Kanan “Kay” Mehra unpacks the bundle of nerves and anxiety this seemingly “put together” woman is. There are still questions (but perhaps that is another book) of why the daughters of straight talking government servants and thrifty mothers have turned out so anxious about their place in the world, with that fake Chanel mini and LV rip-offs providing much succor , making life just a wee bit more meaningful.
But coming back to The Reluctant Detective. It is a speedy read, and at the risk of repeating myself, there is more, so much more than dead bodies that turn Kay’s world around and introduces us to a cast of living and really fleshed out characters. There are ghostly apparitions that spurs the mystery factor forward but before that there are style tips, and writhing snake dances to get into a pair of trousers, and How Not To Pack For a Weekend Getaway (of course I jest when I say How Not To—Kanan showed me how unprepared I have been all my life, and I followed her mantra as I prepared for a weekend dash myself just a couple of days ago. Thank you Kay!)
Though the story comes around in a very satisfying way, with many a chuckle punctuating the journey; it does eaves you thirsting for more (some answers to the questions I raised earlier for one). You want to know more about Kay’s life journey that guide her life choices. You want to know whether she gets over her squeamishness for blood. You want to know whether a honeymoon in Bali will be sabotaged by a suave Suhaan Khan for a sojourn in Bollywood. But now I think I have said too much!
And now Ms Kiran Manral and how I place her writing endeavor. Regular readers of this space will know that it has been a while since I tipped my toes in the pool of print, my love affair with Bollywood having replaced my forays into the world of words. So if I were to treat Manral and her project as I would an offering from the celluloid world, perhaps I will not be remiss in regarding her as pulling off a Farhan Akhtar. Like Akhtar Jr. Manral comes with an impressive “ past life” , she is a freelance writer, a fashionista, a blogger, media consultant, and the founder of India Helps—this is a volunteer network working with disaster victims. Kiran Manral is also a committed friend to the city of Mumbai and I have on good authority that she calls on her mother every weekend and takes the senior citizens to the doctor and shops. A loving wife and a mother, she takes the business of motherhood very very seriously. With all this Manral could have taken the “easier” way out and made use of her ‘resume’ to the hilt to get her dream book project off the ground or recycled the work and words of her “past life”. But she does not, and like Akhtar goes out on the limb to create a project that is fresh in voice and one that has all the chances of becoming the Song of Our Generation. For all this and more , of being so brave in spirit when it comes to her first
project, and of resisting the temptation of clichés, I dub her our own Farhan Akhtar.
Best of luck for Part II, Kiran! For it would be a crime far beyond what the perpetrators of the heinous plots in The Reluctant Detective managed to hatch if the Joote Wali Kitab does not have a sequel soon.
For More on the Crazy Adventures The Reluctant Detective book is up to visit http://www.thereluctantdetectivebook.blogspot.com/