Comparisons are as unfortunate as they are inevitable. Anyone who has read Namita Devidayal’s elegant and moving account of a relationship between a music teacher and her pupil, a relationship between music and the soul, will find this the lesser book. A story of a dying matriarch whose personality and business acumen have formed the core of her family, Aftertaste is also the story of Mummyji’s four children.
The Todarmals are Marwaris once settled in Punjab and now in Bombay, following ‘the smell of money’. Diwali celebrations—a moment when the family would appositely worship Lakshmi—are marred by Mummyji’s illness as she lies comatose in a hospital, while each of her children battles with their concern for her, and their (unspoken) desire to see her gone so that the money (and jewels) can be released. The situation isn’t unfamiliar: it’s not that the siblings do not love their mother, or each other, but money (made from mithai) exerts a powerful influence over their lives and dictates both their mutual interactions and those with the outside world.
Reasonably deft characterisation and an eye for detail, humour (occasional), familial affection (rare) and familial dysfunctionality (the norm) do not, however, sufficiently rescue the book from being somewhat unsatisfying. It’s not clear exactly what it lacks, but perhaps it’s the sheer joy of reading Devidayal’s words on music that Aftertaste lacks.