June 06, 2020
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All Surface

A superficially clever work by a bright author with much better work in store.

All Surface
Family Planning
By Karan Mahajan
Rupa | 224 pages | Rs 395

There’s not a lot to summarise about Karan Mahajan’s Family Planning. IIT- and US-educated man has an arranged second marriage from hell and far too many children with his strange wife; also becomes a politician and does what he can to cope with Machiavellian power structures. Meanwhile, his eldest son tackles lust and dreams of rock stardom. There is a redemptive coming of age. And that’s about it.

This need not be a liability; there is an entire genre of critically successful IWE despite largely reducing to: Gloomy NRI struggles with alienation, looks at saris and fiddles with her spice rack.

Family Planning seeks a metaphor in Rakesh Ahuja’s grotesquely expanding family for India’s equally grotesque political bloat. A tempting conflation, but risky to try this through retreaded humour (poking fun at Punjabi stereotypes was lame 20 years ago) and feeble efforts at shock (are there Indians to whom large families and bureaucratic struggles are terrifying rather than merely unpleasant?). Mahajan makes the right points about power games and inconsistencies of society, but they aren’t particularly revelatory. He can sparkle—his take on the laboured waddle of Indian women of a certain age and girth is an evilly delightful barb. Ultimately, Family Planning is a superficially clever work by a bright author with much better work in store.

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