Sunday, May 06, 2007

Neel Kamal Puri - The Patiala Quartet

The Patiala Quartet by Neel Kamal Puri, pages 174

It is easy for me to be overwhelmed by nostalgia while reading this book. It is set during the 80s and 90s when I was living in nearby Chandigarh. These times are my times, this is my language and my culture.

Two sisters of a royal lineage belonging to Patiala marry into different families. Minnie and Monty's mother marries a businessman without any pedigree, Karuna and Micheal's mom marries right Their lives are undone by defunct husbands. One is defunct because his business fails, another because he chooses to while is time away like a rich wastral. Their unhappy life has a bearing on their children. What happens to the children is what forms the story. They go through their lives falling in love, falling into depression, falling from motorcycles. They see happiness, severence, tragedy, accomplishment in the short span of their youth.

The story is plausible and meaty, what undoes it is lengthy digressions that seem to pop up at the wrong spots. You can't write about Punjab in the eighties and nineties without talking about the effect of terrorism on the lives of people who lived there. So it is written about, but again, as I said earlier it does not integrate well with the story and has a choppy effect. The story of the four cousins is touching and you feel for all the characters. They are pretty well etched.

The language, the idiom, the dresses, the ambience of Punjab of the day are well brought out. The peculiar traits of kakas (rich young boys) and their ways are well described. It is pretty funny in parts. That kept me turning the pages. I liked the feel of the book. I wish there was a good editor handy to hand out some good tips that would have enabled the author to refine the tale better.

The language goes from lyrical to okay in a matter of one paragraph.

Now, as I said right in beginning, I am familiar with the language, place, culture and people. I have no idea how a person who does not belong here feel about it. The novel lacks clarity and a lay person could fail to understand what is going on.


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