Book Review | Boy meets girl in elite New India
Deccan Chronicle.| Rupa Gulab
Best Intentions is a fairly realistic and witty depiction of contemporary upper-class urban India
Cover image of the book 'Best Intentions' by Simran Dhir. (By Arrangement)
Meet singletons Gayatri Mehra and Akshay Grewal who don’t exactly hit it off. Akshay thinks Gayatri’s a la la land leftie activist for giving up law to work for a small history journal instead, supporting causes, etc. Gayatri despises Akshay because he’s everything she stands against.
There is much joy and celebration in their households though, when their siblings Nandini (Mehra) and Amar (Grewal) marry — same class, and all that. However, the Grewals are far more powerful than the Mehras. Akshay’s father has a successful law practice, strong connections with a dodgy sadhu, and has just joined a Hindu right wing party with the sadhu’s help and blessings.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Gayatri and Akshay are thrown together because Akshay’s father’s party and the sadhu’s men are hell bent on rewriting history to suit their political agenda. When Gayatri’s organisation gets threatening calls from them, she asks Mr Grewal to urge them to back off, and Akshay is ordered to sort it out.
Enter good-looking investment banker Vikram from the UK, one of the latest "matrimonial prospects" Gayatri is forced to meet. Akshay mistrusts him — perhaps it’s because he’s getting a wee bit jealous, or maybe it’s something else altogether? Gayatri’s snobbish mother has misgivings too when she later suspects that Vikram may not belong to the same class, shudder. Anyway, it’s raining men for Gayatri but she’s not singing "Hallelujah".
Everything is effervescent and deliciously chick lit-ish (but not outright funny Bridget Jones-ish), for the first half of the book. Frequent references to "eye-rolling" are the only irritants. Gayatri really is rather charming, and Akshay turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Both grow during the course of the novel, and the sharp black and white of their separate worlds blur into a sort of dingy grey. Both-sideism eventually rules and Gayatri and Akshay begin to sound like India’s "Britannia 50:50" news anchors. The same old arguments that are trotted out on social media play out — from contentious places of worship to Savarkar.
The genre appears to change in the second half of the book. The sun goes behind clouds that become darker and darker. Gayatri and Akshay are thrown together again when her office is vandalised. At the same time, the two of them have to plot and plan in an attempt to save Nandini and Amar’s rapidly floundering marriage.
Before we know it, we’re thrown into a potboiler: Akshay’s father has been ordered by the party and his sadhu to clean up his rather shady personal life (not an easy task), and he also has to play dirty filthy games to buy a ticket to contest elections (this is even more difficult). Then one day — boom! A scandal breaks out, and the flurry of revelations are page turners. It’s left to Gayatri and Akshay to pick up the pieces.
Best Intentions is a fairly realistic and witty depiction of contemporary upper-class urban India. It’s well-written and all the more enjoyable because the characters are interesting — most have hard choices to make.
pp. 345, Rs. 399