In a country where family planning has been the norm since the late 70s, Rakesh Ahuga's family stands out. Rakesh, the Minister of Urban Planning, has 13 children and another is on the way. The chaos of his home (“the house was the riots of 1947”) is rivaled only by the bedlam of the Indian civil service, a corrupt and often illogical system that Rakesh navigates by frequently resigning (last count was 67 times) to get things done his way.
Recent events have pushed the Ahuja household to the breaking point. Matriarch Sangita is mourning the death of her favourite soap star. Eldest son Arjun stumbled upon his parents having sex in the nursery and is “completely shattered.” His infatuation with Aarti, a fellow student, provides a much needed distraction but in order to carry out his plan to capture her attention, he must navigate sibling politics within “a team of jihadis so bored they'd declared holy war on one another” and face years of sibling servitude.
As the women of India go into mourning over the soup star's death and a nation-wide strike is threatened, the country's political turmoil heats up and rebellion looms at work and home. Rakesh and Arjun must come to terms with themselves, each other and long-hidden secrets.
Family Planning, the debut novel by Karan Mahajan, is a finely wrought tragicomedy described by several reviewers as “madcap.” Dialogue spirals out of control, (especially the jargon of Arjun and his friends) leaving readers with only an impression of meaning rather than true understanding. We may not understand every word and illusion in Family Planning, but we are left with a feeling of authenticity, of having glimpsed a true slice of family life in New Delhi. Readers looking for a coherent, straightforward narrative may wish to look elsewhere for their next read; in doing so however, they will miss a truly delightful send-up of modern Indian life.
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: November 18, 2008
tags: books fiction Karan Mahajan debut novel India