Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: Family Planning (2008) by Karan Mahajan

If there's one common thread running through the Indian literature I've read it's the frustration felt by the Indian middle and upper classes with the chaotic, corrupt state of their country. Balancing this is a love for India's eccentricities, traditions and downright absurdities. Add in the siren call of the West and you can see that Indian writers have some rather big issues to deal with.

Family Planning takes the madness of modern Indian life and compresses it into the Ahuja family of New Delhi. The family, all fifteen of them, are led by Rakesh Ahuja, a cabinet minister in the government. His cabinet portfolio has him in charge of "flyovers", an elevated series of expressways that are intended to lift traffic above the sprawl and congestion of Delhi. His oldest son, Arjun, 16, is a big fan of Bryan Adams and wants to start his own rock band in order to impress a schoolgirl he sees on the bus everyday.

That's the basic setup for the novel, but beyond that the author doesn't do a lot with his two main characters. Rakesh's political career comes a cropper for entirely farcical reasons, and Arjun's band gets nowhere entirely because they have absolutely no talent. Mahajan is mostly interested in showing the contradictions in Indian life, such as a cabinet minister trying to tame Delhi's traffic while at the same increasing it with his oversized family. Mahajan is a clever and amusing writer, but his novel borders on being plotless. The writing is entertaining but after a certain point it needs to be attached to a story.

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