Chick lit at its best

Chick lit at its best

Runaway Writers
Indu Balachandran
Speaking Tiger
2015, pp 296, Rs 299

Wikipedia: “Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.”

By that definition, Indu Balachandran’s Runaway Writers belongs to this category. Serious readers are generally dubious about writing that is not heavy, tome-ish, scholarly, and to a certain extent, stodgy. However, such writing does have its space as is proven by the readership and sales figures for this genre. The Bridget Jones and Sex and the City series are all very well, but issues for sistahs on this side of the ocean are somewhat different and homegrown chick lit authors fill this niche.

Runaway Writers is, for the most part, a plausible story of three city-bred close-to-30 women who have no eligible male on their radar and also list this requirement low down in their priorities. Their families do their best to make them take the well-trodden path of education-marriage-kids. Do Ambujakshi, Bobby and Mini succumb to the pressures or do they manage to follow their dreams, as the cliché goes? To know this, well, you’ll have to pick up the book!

So, there is Ambujakshi (name shortened to Amby, as in the car) in Chennai, who is the Main Protagonist. Her life has taken the trajectory that kids from decent Tamil families are expected to follow. Namely, good education, being a topper and Math whiz, Masters at an Ivy League university and, on her return, a job at a multinational bank. Her family is now lining up suitable horoscopes and dragging her to weddings to be looked over by suitable boys and their suitable families. But she does the totally unexpected, much to their dismay.

She quits her cushy job! AND, what is worse, takes up a job as a tweet writer for an Adonis-like film superstar KayKay in order to feed her latent writing sensibilities that were being stifled in the mechanical banking job. Kaykay too is an anomaly. An alumnus of IIM, he has entered films serendipitously with one sole aim: to save enough money to train at the Cordon Bleu school in France. All is well with the boss and employee sharing similar love for books, music and films till angst sets in again and Amby want to quit ghost-writing and be known as a screenplay writer. And one day, a pop-up banner on the laptop beckons! It’s an ad for a writers’ workshop in Greece and she is hooked.

The same pop-up is luring two Minor Protagonists elsewhere. Bobby Varma in Mumbai and Mini Cherian in Bengaluru too decide to give up their successful jobs as award-winning advertising writer and author of books for children respectively and follow their dreams of being travel writers and disseminators of erotica. In the two weeks spent on the blue coastline of the Aegean, honing their writing skills, the three bond for life. The Fair & Handsome KayKay is never far from Amby’s mind though, and she fears the sparks between them were for real.

The tale paces along steadily with Ramachandran, jumping from Amby’s story to Bobby’s to Mini’s, keeping readers in heightened suspense and whetting their appetite to know what-happens-next. The nuggets thrown in (early morning whoosh of pressure cookers, ‘biro’ in a Tamilian household, filter coffee that cannot be ingested by under-15s, Friday head-baths and otha pinnal braids on a chamaththu kid, Ponds talcum powder, Punjabi fathers drinking “whiskybrandy in the house”) make it oh-so-familiar. Readers of a certain age will be transported back to Doogie Howser, Mind Your Language, Sunday morning Mahabharata on TV, QSQT, VCRs, When Harry Met Sally and suchlike. Ahhh, nostalgia!

The author’s felicity with language makes the story eminently readable. The vividity of the descriptions of locales should make the author the brand ambassador for Greece. However, the editing could have been better, especially in a book about writers. Spellings go for a toss at times, as does the grammar (“premier” of a movie?” villian”, “foreign”, “eating out his hand”?). But the author can spin a tale for sure.

“The world is full of books in search of authors”. Well, this book got one!  
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time”: John Lennon/KayKay. Yes, indeed. So if a quick entertainer is the need, Runaway Writers is perfect for a one-time read.

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