I love Anuja Chauhan. I adore her characters, admire her wit and try to imitate the ease in her writing. No Indian writer in the genre can come beat her in this game, not even the famed Advaita Kala. She is the Helen Fielding of the East, the Carrie Bradshaw of India. And while both Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittora had their share of flaws, Those Pricey Thakur Girls is perfect, right from the blurb where our discipline loving Bau ji names his five daughters alphabetically.
In a sprawling bungalow on New Delhi’s posh Hailey Road, Justice Laxmi Narayan Thakur and his wife Mamta spend their days watching anxiously over their five beautiful (but troublesome) alphabetically named daughters. Anjini, married but an incorrigible flirt; Binodini, very worried about her children’s hissa in the family property; Chandrakanta, who eloped with a foreigner on the eve of her wedding; Eshwari, who is just a little too popular at Modern School, Barakhamba Road; and the Judges favourite (though fathers shouldnt have favourites): the quietly fiery Debjani, champion of all the stray animals on Hailey Road, who reads the English news on DD and clashes constantly with crusading journalist Dylan Singh Shekhawat, he of shining professional credentials but tarnished personal reputation, crushingly dismissive of her state-sponsored propaganda, but always seeking her out with half-sarcastic, half-intrigued dark eyes. Spot-on funny and toe-curlingly sexy, Those Pricey Thakur Girls is rom-com specialist Anuja Chauhan writing at her sparkling best.
In the posh locality of Hailey Road in New Delhi, a few years after the anti-Sikh riots, lives the Thakur Family: Retired Justice Thakur, his wife Mamta Ji, and their five alphabetically-named daughters – Anjini, Binodini, Chandralekha, Debjani, and Eshwari. And if any of you thought it would be similar to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, well, the similarity ends there. The whole novel is tinted with nostalgia. It is set in the simple times of the 80s, where DD was the only English news channel, Campa Cola was the kids’ choice of drink and playing card games in the evening was a routine.
Each of the girls have their own eccentricities and opinions, but the story mainly revolves around the fourth daughter, Debjani. Debjani, recently recruited as an English newsreader for the only news channel in India, DeshDarpan, is intelligent, smart, independent, and pretty. She has earned many innovative names for herself, ‘lover of losers,’ Molonchin (due to the mole on her chin, which many think to be a fake), and D-for-Dabbu being some of them. The reader has no choice but to admire the skill with which Ms. Chauhan introduces her. Dabbu, the lover of losers, who felt bad for West Indies when India beat them in the World Cup (come on, they were sure they’d win. It must have been such a rude shock at the complete turn of events.) She adopts ugly neighbourhood strays, and is cursed by a small mole on her chin, which everybody is convinced is fake. She is endearing, and tugs at your heartstrings. She’s a character the reader will immediately root for, even if she is wrong.
On the other side is our half-Rajput half-Christian male protagonist, Dylan Singh Shekhawat. Tall, dark, handsome, flirtatious, and drop-dead gorgeous with long dimples in his lean cheeks; he won over my heart almost instantaneously. Heart-breaker, charmer and journalist-extraordinaire for India Post, he is shown to be deeply affected by the aftermath of the anti-Sikh riots, and is on the quest for the truth.
Those Pricey Thakur Girls is a simple love story between D-for-Debjani and D-for-Dylan, complete with initial flirting, misunderstandings, and reconciliations. Dylan, despite his reputation of being a Casanova, falls lock stock and barrel for Dabbu; and she of course turns to mush at the mere thought of him. Stolen kisses in the stairwells, dances, dropping of handkerchiefs and other intimate moments made my ‘stomach do ballet’ along with Dylan! With references to the political and social background in the 80’s, one does get a feel of the lifestyle of that era, but Anuja Chauhan does not let the story dwell on it too much.
Despite a huge cast of characters, each one fret higher than the other in terms of bizarreness, you would not feel lost trying to place them in the story. From the drop-dead gorgeous Anji Di, to the wannabe-lawyer-wannabe-bodybuilder cousin Gulgul, to Mr.Gambhir of the Kirana store, Brigadier Sahab, hot-Dulari, Chachi Ji; each one has a definitive role in the plot, not seeming out of place at all. And to spice up the story, Chauhan introduces a supernatural element in the form of the ghost of grandmother Pushkarni who enters the body of dear Chachi Ji on and off. The joint Indian families in the book automatically provide for tongue-in-cheek humour and sarcasm.
Chauhan adds some solid Delhi mirch-masala in the form of the street language adopted by all, the snobbery of Stephanians, the eternal rivalry between Modernites and Dipsites, and an obsession with body-building and ‘jeeming’ (Gymming). Transitioning comfortably between Hindi and English (Hinglish actually), we are shown the Delhi culture in its true form.
Anuja manages to throw you into fits of laughter, let you go all mushy-mushy and make your heart flutter, and show a love story in the pre-internet era. I absolutely LOVED Those Pricey Thakur Girls. And the best part? This is not the last time we meet the Thakur family. Can’t wait for its sequel, ‘The House That BJ Built’!