Love is probably one of the oldest emotions written about. It is definitely the most written about. We don’t seem to write so much about anger, hate or fear — probably because they are just stages, by-products of a relationship defined by love. The problem with writing about love is the competition — it’s very stiff. From the sentimental Erich Segal to the kinky 50 Shades of Grey — love has its manifestations and forms that have left us in a tizzy for centuries now. In this long line of love stories come two new Indian books — Tuhin A. Sinha’s Let the Reason be Love and Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma’s Love Side by Side.
Both are what can be loosely described as paperback-flicks — a paperback you flip through and flick away. Books that costs so little and mean just as much too. As far as writing about love goes, love has rarely seen worse. The problem with these books is not that they are bad; they are just astonishingly mediocre. They are mediocre in their writing, their plots, their characters and their storylines. They excel in predictability and boredom. You find yourself flipping through them faster than the authors must have written them. And given the quality of writing, the authors couldn’t have possibly taken too long on them (or so one hopes).
First, let’s take Tuhin’s book. There is a guy and a girl. Guy meets girl accidentally when his car breaks down. They share an auto. They happen to work in the same office.
His last week is her first week. She is hot, smokes and hence works in branding. What he does is kind of immaterial because all he wants to do is her, from the word go. And brave Indian man that he is, he does ask her to a party. One thing — or one drink — leads to another and boom, they are at his place doing what heterosexuals do after copious amounts of liquor. They start living together. Everything that attracted him to her starts bothering him. This part has to be the most original ever. The fact that she smokes, that she is independent, cocky, doesn’t give a damn, won’t care much about his mother, can’t cook, isn’t too appreciative, etc, etc — the list goes on and on, as do the chapters, as does the relationship. Till one day, it stops. She leaves. But hey, she comes back. They decide to give it another shot — which, in the context of the book, means they can’t find anyone else to have sex with. The sex, throughout all of this is remarkably good. They keep asking themselves, are they in it because they are into each other?
But let’s gloss over that and welcome some random bestfriend. Now, the guy can’t keep it in his pants and he obviously goes for the girl’s bestfriend. We’re not going into character names because really, like the plot, they aren’t original. You can call them Neha and Atul for all you care.
So, the guy gets it on with the bestfriend, gets caught; loses everything. What has taken less than 300 words to write stretches on for 300 pages. Or at least they seem so. Not a shred of this book is original in thought, ideas, writing, style, story, plotting. You can see the break-up from way before the meet-up. You can see the fights before the sex. You can predict the hypocrisy much before you can see the hyperbole of attraction.
Sadly, the other book, Love Side by Side, packs no punches either. There is a simple guy. There is a hot Delhi girl. She is a spunky, devil-may-care girl. Which means she will wear skirts even in the winter. Also, she has to be called Riya. A hot Delhi girl can’t be called Jyotsna, can she? That would break the “Oath of Clichés” every Indian author writing in English seems to have taken before putting finger to keyboard. The guy is shy, the girl is high-fi. For some inexplicable reason she hangs with him. He is just quietly proud that she does.
Love, or something like it blooms. Riya goes to study abroad. The guy goes to Jamshedpur. They stay in touch. Long distance is a bitch. And there is also another girl, though she is not a bitch. She is simple, sweet, and all things a classic Indian guy wants her girl to be. This book really reaffirms the cliché: Indian boys like a particular kind of girl to take home, and a completely different kind to take to home to parents. Of all the clichés in the book, this one is actually true.
One thing leads to another and love happens. In defence of the writer, there are some other characters thrown in and they aren’t cardboard, unlike Tuhin’s. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. These two love stories are utterly forgettable and almost impossible to complete. The only reason you do finish them (you finish them, not complete them) is because they’re so easy to read. They are the Rohit Shettys of the literature world. And like in films, the trouble is, they’ll always do better than the ones which may actually be about some interesting things.
The only positive that one may draw from this kind of literature is that it is serving as an entry-point for young readers. Hopefully, some of them will mature to reading better writers.
Till love do us apart.
(Omkar Sane is an author, film writer and a Mumbaikar)