Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Weight Loss Club by Devapriya Roy

On the jacket:

A warm, witty, gloriously realistic novel about living, loving and losing weight. 

Set in a middle-class housing colony, this is the story of stay-at-home mum Monalisa, who cannot clean the kitchen counter enough times; Meera, who is bullied constantly by her traditional mother-in-law; college-going Abeer, who isnt sure how to impress the glamorous Mandy; academic Aparajita, who has no takers on the marriage mart; philosopher Ananda, whom no one takes seriously; and Treeza, a former school secretary now sunk in gloom. Into their midst arrives Oxford-returned Sandhya: half hippie, half saadhvi, full spiritual guru. Under her aegis is formed The Weight Loss Club, throwing the lives of our heroes and heroines into utter and delightful disarray. 

But while chemistry brews and equations change, one question remains: who is Brahmacharini Sandhya, and why on earth has she moved into Nancy Housing Cooperative?


The Weight Loss Club is not really what you might guess from it's cover and title. Well, it wasn't what I guessed! I had imagined the plot to be about a club which will be formed by fat society aunties and the book will talk about their experiences, funny incidents etc. No. I was wrong. There was not even a mention of a weight loss club till page 172, and by then I was confused, annoyed and unsure if I should continue reading the book. 

Having said that, let me tell you what is there in the book from Page 1. An earthy connection to Kolkata which probably only Bengalis or those with a Kolkata connection can feel, lots of emotions, and an array of events. And once I had finished reading the book, I sat there for a few moments, took time to come out of the lives of the residents of Nancy Housing Cooperation.

The story is about the residents of Nancy Housing Cooperative and every chapter is actually very interesting, right from why Nancy became Nancy. A plethora of characters - the Mukherjee family with two overweight children, Abeer and Aparajita, with Aparajita being on the threshold of marriageable age, is put on a strict diet by her mother; the Das(s) - parents and two sons, where the mother, Monalisa is obsessed with her sons' education and scores; the Sahai(s), husband-wife-MIL-two children kind of a family with a nagging MIL and a whole host of annoying relatives who have come visiting; the Boses - Ananda and his ailing mother; John and Treeza; and whole lot more - with saadhvi Sandhya moving in at the flat above John and Treeza.

Each person in the plot has a distinct personality and events going on in their lives. These events get entwined at times, and at times run parallel. The typical Bengali household attributes which we see in the Mukherjee hosehold, or how a regular Bengali mother dotes over her kids, as in the Das family, or, how Meera Sahai is suppressed by her mother-in-law and sister-in-law - we have witnessed such families and we know one such in our lives too. Being more used to the difference in usage of co-sister/co-sister-in-law and sister-in-law, the jethani /devrani being referred to as sister-in-law did come across as odd.

By the time I finished reading The Weight Loss Club, I had a good feeling about the tale, having been involved in the lives of the character while reading. When I had started reading, I was concentrating on the title and not finding any mention of the apparent theme, was turned off. However, once the title made sense and I began concentrating on the plot; it was a smooth read. My favourite part was where John and Treeza got to a family gathering; the section gave a Bow Barracks kind of feeling. Durga puja planning was nostalgic, even though I am a probashi Bengali.

The cover page illustrations were particularly noteworthy.

Rating: ***.5/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

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