October 5, 2014, Rupa Gulab, Asian Age
If I had to give a Twitter-sized review of this book, I’d say, think blasé Sex and the City instead of warm and fuzzy Bridget Jones’s Diary. Radha Thomas’ More Men on My Mind is about the hilarious sexual adventures of an Indian woman in New York — she’s a jazz singer by night (well, when she gets gigs) and has a couple of not-so-boring day jobs that pay the bills.
As far as recreation goes, she socialises with a multicultural bunch of buddies, so you do get a powerful punch of the melting pot that is New York. Oh, and it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t read Thomas’ first book, Men on My Mind — it won’t stand in the way of your enjoyment. This book is breezy and will keep you amused and giggling till the very last page. Or disgusted and gagging perhaps, if you’re a bit of a prude.
The heroine is not looking for love or marriage, which is refreshing when it comes to Indian chick-lit. “Like me, Durga was also on the hunt for a man who would hold her hand and fill it with expensive items till the end of days,” she casually mentions. Yes, she’s cynical and a beyotch as well, but so what? At least she’s having fun — and hey, so is the reader because there are some fabulously witty one-liners here. She unselfconsciously works her way through a series of men of different nationalities: a Frenchman who’s into “nuclear stuff”, a Japanese jazz musician and anything and everything in between, including respectable doctors and flamboyant drug dealers. At the end of it all she knows the words for multiple orgasms in multiple languages. More interesting than collecting stamps, right? You also learn terribly important things like, if you spend the night at a Japanese man’s apartment, you will probably have rice and cold fish for breakfast.
It’s good to know what to expect.
Why, there’s even a deliciously wicked account of an Indian arranged marriage set up in Delhi by her mother (now she’s an engaging character). The heroine is not too sure whether this is such a good idea.
“Ma, are you sure you’ve told him about me? I mean, the truth?” I said, as I gelled my hair, the blouse and petticoat already in place. I was no shy, innocent bride. Neither had I accomplished anything worthwhile in America, except a halfway decent understanding of the male anatomy.
“Oh don’t be stupid,” she responded. “There are no virgins anymore. Everyone knows that.”
Sadly, into each review some rain must fall. This is not so much a novel as a bunch of naughty episodes strung together. The heroine doesn’t grow or change as a person — and I doubt that she’s memorable character material because, to begin with, one doesn’t even know her name (unless, of course, her name is meant to be “I”). It’s impossible to feel sorry for her when she gets dumped occasionally because she barely registers heartbreak — in fact, the lucky, lucky woman emerges almost unscathed, hallelujah! There’s not too much of sobbing into Kleenex or stalking, drunk dialling, burning photographs, getting trendy haircuts, et cetera when relationships end — she tends to jump from one relationship into the next in dynamic washing machine tumble-dry mode. Life goes on with an exciting new man in place a few paragraphs or pages later. Hello, where’s the angst?
And perhaps, just perhaps, the book may have been a little more enjoyable if it wasn’t written with Western readers in mind. Tedious descriptions of Indian traditions, customs, garments, spices, music, dance and all things cultural tend to interfere with the narrative. It may have been a better idea to add a glossary or let curious readers Google-search. In all fairness though, some of Thomas’ lengthy catering-to-the-West explanations are vastly entertaining. Take this bit on Bharatnatyam, for example:
But despite the thumping and the weights, an unfortunate side effect is that Bharatnatyam dancers will often develop wide hips and large bottoms. Possibly because of the hours they spend squatting. Indian art and sculpture has always glorified Indian womanhood in the image of the B dancer, so the Indian male is quite sensitised to the wide bottom. It has never been hard for a B dancer to get a date on a Saturday night on account of her large backside.
Right, like with all chick-lit, this is not a book that will change your life, but it may open your mind a wee bit, which is not a bad thing at all. And it is funny. So, in keeping with the spirit of the book, I suggest you just, um, lie back and enjoy it.
Before I forget, a dire warning: Do not let prissy, patriarchal, Right-wing book-banners/burners get their grubby hands on your copy of More Men on My Mind because their charming notions of Indian women as chaste goddesses may be shattered, and strokes or heart attacks may follow. It’s not nice to be responsible for someone’s death now, is it?
Rupa Gulab is a columnist and the author of Girl Alone, Chip of the Old Blockhead and The Great Depression of the 40s