It's been a while since I've written about Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, but I have finally managed to finish part seven, which was more than 150 pages long. I've already started part eight and with just under 50 pages I hope to make quick work of it. It will also be the second of five "slices" of the book (if you recall I cut the book into smaller portions to make it easier to carry about) finished. Reading through that middle part (third slice) will mean I am more than halfway through this chunkster of a story. I am quite enjoying it, but I had some distractions over the last couple of months and now hope I am back in a normal reading routine with it.
So just a little refresher since enough time has passed for details to begin fading (and this is likely more for me than anyone else, so feel free to skim over this bit). There are four families that the story is mostly concerned with: the Mehras (and it is Lata Mehra the university student who has fallen for a Muslim cricket player, Kabir Durrani, and whose family wants to find a 'suitable boy' for), the Kapoors, the Chatterjis and so far a bit less of the Khans. Two of the Mehra children are married into the Kapoor and Chatterji families. It is ca. 1950, post-Partition India with most of the action happening in Brahmpur and Calcutta, and there is a lot of civil unrest at the moment (clashes between Hindus and Muslims and wealthier class and lower class/caste).
In the last section most of the time was spent with the Kapoor family (Lata's sister Savita is in a happily arranged marriage with Pran Kapoor who is in the English faculty at the university Lata attends), but now in section eight Lata and her mother take center stage once again. Mrs. Rupa Mehra whisked Lata away to Calcutta after discovering her romance (just at its beginning) with Kabir. Finished with her final exams for the year it is hopefully just the break Lata will need to forget the cricket player (doesn't really happen I'm afraid). Her elder brother Arun, wife Meenakshi and their daughter Aparna are in Calcutta along with her other single brother Varun.
Arun is a terrible snob and an awful bully and Meenakshi is not much better. He gets along reasonably well with Luts (Lata) but generally glowers at younger brother Varun. But things have gotten interesting, and I am going to get gossipy here . . . Meenakshi is having an affair with one of Arun's British colleagues. Naughty, naughty, and of course Arun hasn't a clue. I think the gentleman in question would like to cool things off, but Meenakshi can be pretty persuasive (something of a seductress and likes nice clothes and is most certainly trendy). Arun is referred to as a 'domestic tyrant' and boy is that a very apt description. He is quite affable with his British colleagues and wants to please and excel at Bentson and Pryce, but he is pretty awful to his family. He and Meenakshi make the social rounds and are not often home in the evenings.
Varun is really his own best enemy. He does not know how or have the courage to stand up to Arun who thinks he is a lazy, good-for-nothing. Lata tries to smooth things down between the two, but Varun plays into his hands since he likes to go off and drink and gamble and not attend to his studies. Even Mrs. Rupa Mehra cannot escape his scathing remarks. When her daughter Savita sends her mangoes (she is quite fond of them and rarely can stop at just one) he criticizes her for eating too many and the sugar has an ill effect on her diabetes.
The Chatterji family, however, seem to have appeal to Lata. She is befriended by Meenakshi's younger and also very sociable sister Kakoli (Kuku) and her brother Amit takes a particular liking to Lata. Could he be the suitable boy? He is a writer and poet and things click nicely between he and Lata. They spend time with each other, but as they are practically family it is acceptable. She, a lover of English literature, and he a writer might make a perfect couple. Mrs. Mehra, however, frowns upon the idea of losing another child to the Chatterji clan. They (the girls anyway-Meenakshi and Kuku) have a rather annoying habit of talking in rhyming couplets. Usually it is a lot of silliness and plays on words, but it even grates on Arun at times. But the Chatterjis are most welcoming to Lata including her on their outings.
Perhaps Lata will get a bit of independence since her mother is returning to Brahmpur by way of Delhi as Savita is expecting her first baby. Unknown to her family Lata received a letter from Kabir at the outset of this section. As much as she might be enjoying Calcutta, hanging out with Amit and going to parties, she finds her mind going back to her cricket player often. Since the letter is rather provoking I will end with mention of it--it annoyed Lata with its flippant tone! Even towards the end of the section when she thinks of it, it is with a rush of anger. But does she think of Amit in romantic terms? Hard to say (and he can be somewhat condescending at times), but things seem to be much more open in Calcutta-mixed parties and the women showing so much more skin. Not that Lata is nothing but modest.
Now it is time to return to the Kapoors in section eight. Now Maan Kapoor is also being whisked away from his inappropriate affair with the older Saeeda Bai who is a ghazal singer and a courtesan. Ostensibly he is going to (he feels like it is exile!) the countryside to study and learn Urdu (the language of Saeeda who recites/sings poetry). He's going to stay with his tutor and tutor's family (who begs him not to embarrass him, but after saying of course he would never do such a thing, he instantly regrets it--knowing his downfalls and limitations). It should be an interesting section, I think. And I hope to tell you about it at this time next Friday!