Almost Single by Advaita Kala

I chanced upon this book while waiting for a couple of friends, who were operating on the Indian Standard Time, to make their grand entry. The ‘Almost Single’ and the cheeky picture of the saree accessorised with running shoes were enough to pique my interest. I had the book pegged as the story of an ‘about-to-be-divorced’, saree clad Indian woman who was about to adorn the shoes to take part in the rat race and who would take on the big bad world and triumph at the fag end with a triumphant and exuberant HA! I made the fatal error of judging the book by its cover. An amateur’s mistake. I should’ve known better.

Sometimes, Life is like a book. You can get so desperate to reach the end of the story that you conveniently skip a couple of chapters. However, when you do get to the end, you’re left with this icky restless feeling, and you know that you need to go back to those missing chapters before you can close the book.

This is my favourite line in the book and one of the few sensible ones which stuns you by its perceptive simplicity in an otherwise complete masala book. It reminded me not to judge a book by its cover. A book should be judged only after reading it thoroughly and that is precisely what I did after dispelling my pre-conceived notions.

‘Almost Single’ is author Advaita Kala’s first literary attempt. It is a 282 page rollercoaster ride which leaves the reader wondering ‘What next’?

It is the story of a 29 year old, independent, career-oriented, fun-loving, alcohol-guzzling, Sunday-brunch-addict and forever-on-a-diet shopaholic named Aisha Bhatia. Oh wait, I forgot to mention ‘still-unmarried’. This is the whole crux of the book. She lives alone in the Capital city of India and has her faithful sidekicks who help her swerve through the ups and downs & rights and lefts life has to bestow while coping with their own engine’s problems! There is Misha who escaped from a small town and her parents to enjoy the independent life in Delhi and whose sole aim in life is to snag the perfect NRI for herself. She is on the wrong side of 25 as well and unhappily single. Then there is Anushka Mishra, once a poster girl for the ‘happily married’ and who is now headed for a divorce she has yet to come to terms with. Then there is the quintessential gay couple – Nic and Ric who provide quick fix solutions to hangovers, beauty tips, are in contention with Aisha and Misha for snagging eligible bachelors and always provide a shoulder to cry on. A mother who keeps fretting about the marriage of her almost 30, unmarried daughter as she watches the other ‘black sheep’ of the family get hooked one after the other. She tries everything from tantrums to emotional atyachaar, matrimony sites to consulting babas. A boss who is universally hated and can do no right. He cheats on his wife at work and cheats on his work by juggling a wife and a mistress.

Aisha hates her job, hates her boss, hates exercising, hates draping sarees, loves her friends, loves gossiping, loves to drink and eat and when she is not doing that, she is looking for true love. And it arrives. In true Bollywood style. It comes in the form of the very stylish, drop dead gorgeous and filthy rich NRI Karan Verma. He is Aisha’s knight in a ‘Gucci suit clad, expensive perfume sprinkled on, and livingly in luxury’ armour. He sees her gift wrapping a car in toilet paper. She sees him in his birthday suit. And cupid strikes. The reader can feel the electricity between the two but it hasn’t been given a prominence in the story. It is true for most of the parallel stories in the book. The stories are very funny and are something the reader can totally relate to, but some have abrupt endings. Like the story between Aisha and her ever present yet elusive ex is very hazy. There are several instances in the book which make you crack up with laughter because you can actually imagine yourself in that situation and can understand why the characters react in a certain manner. All the characters are slightly clichéd but well defined. Their stories are familiar but aren’t out of the ordinary and the ending is very predictable. The book seems to bank on ‘All is well that ends well’ notion.

What the book does focus on is Aisha’s inner fight with herself. One can almost she her struggling with the shackles of being an Indian girl as she tries to assert her independence. It is a fight within her, in between the modern and the traditional. On one hand she is a smoker and drinks too much while having already said bye bye to her sacred virginity, on the other hand she still believes in hosting havans, astrology, consults babajee before taking every important decision in her life and keeps the Karva chauth fast to find her perfect man. The inner struggle is apparent and is something the generation today can totally relate to. This is why the book is extremely relevant in today’s context. It exactly defines the situation women today are in. They want everything and question everything.

‘Almost Single’ is almost interesting, almost readable, almost worth the time and effort. In short, it is almost there but not quite. Also, I am still confused about the title.

Gursheel Parmar

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