‘You are here’, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s debut novel, reads like a dream. (This applies for all women between eighteen and thirty, and even to most not bordering the periphery). Anyone who has chanced upon ‘The compulsive confessor’ her BlogSpot will have their expectations served with a sharp apple martini.
Okay, here goes: twenty-something, single, female, writer, with large groups of friends and who goes out for drinks pretty regularly. That’s my life and that’s what I write about. Okay? Okay
So that’s the tangy to Madhavan’s book in the way she tells it.
If you’re looking for a writer to give you a window into the hunger and poverty of India, or mope over the weight of sexual discrimination here, Madhavan is not the writer to turn to. Not even if you want to read about the cruel ways of India’s metropolitans. Madhavan deviates from the harsh palette served by most Indian writers, catering to a far softer taste. She serves her slice of life as sliver of cheesecake.
Madhavan follows the life of her lead protagonist Arshi, a regular Delhi girl doing regular Delhi things. It follows Arshi, then twenty six, as she deals with a monstrous boss – ‘Shruti the horrible’, an ex boyfriend – Cheeto the Cheater, an ‘Is he my boyfriend?’ Ice Prince Kabir, a Canada returned best friends wedding, and a mood swinging flatmate Topsy, who’s dealing with mega-crisis of her own. All in the midst of a whiny sniffling neighbour, old school crushes, clubbing buddies, heinous step mothers, pool parties, weddings and fair amounts of alcohol.
The writing of this narrative is non-linear, moving like flow of thought often back and forth through time. The text is interspersed with casual detail thrown in with an irregularity that almost camouflages the clever weaving. The story itself is not the strong suit of this novel, but its story telling is its forte. The novel moves quickly paced from one zany exploit to a mundane household event with an effortless ease.
Arshi describes a lifestyle that is not in keeping with certain sensibilities with a vulnerability of emotion that is absolutely endearing. Every mood is spelt out with earnestness and is almost too easily identifiable, and you can find yourself stopping midsentence thinking ‘Hey I do this!’ (Like when she reads Sweet Valleys, or like to have coke with her meals). Anecdotes that would have done Carrie Bradshaw proud in her heyday are written about unabashed and unapologetic in a tone so matter of fact, so utterly normal, that the tenor is most refreshing. Even Madhavan’s minor characters are well etched (including her NRI father, and her Deity worshiping, incense burning American step-mother) and exude their presence with a punch. The characters are all so non-fabricated, and I cannot make this point enough, so normal in their quirks (like Arshi’s love for Shady pubs) and tell-tale habits that it is impossible not to imagine them strolling down Central Park, or sitting on the metro, or shopping in the aisle across from yours at Lajpat Nagar, or dining on the table next to yours at Big Chill
‘You are here’ proceeds with flair. It is a light, cheerful, breezy read never stopping to take itself too seriously, or looking back to see what people have to say. It makes for a wonderfully liberating read. I enjoyed the book in its entirety, for it glimpsed a more or less happy world, embellished with pink fluff and candy floss without resorting to scrutinising glares or shallow portrayals. The book made for such an entertaining and familiar read because Arshi’s world was in so many ways mine. Her slice of creamy crumbly blueberry cheesecake was baked just the way I liked it.