Take that comingofage, loss-of-innocence, first-love-first-pain, writer-meets-muse Meena story that in its cliche-ridden images and narrative line recalls the worst excesses of Hindi filmdom. Dreadlock Dandy author's eyes lovelock into Madame M's large lustrous black orbs as his taxi cruises past her Kamathipura brothel. Pilsner passion ignites, fuels his frenzied search for Those Eyes.
Tedious prose describes his tired journey through tired streets that lead us and the tale to its tiring and oh-so-predictable denouement. What Gustad has is texture: broom paos and bhelpuris, madames and malai kulfis, hijras and bhuttas, randis and suparis.... What he does not have is a tale. Large cast. Lousy script.
What Gustad has is the ability to grab your attention. What he does not have, however, is the ability to sustain it. The opening hook line is never missing—"It was difficult respecting Louisa in the morning", or again "there is a woman outside my window flashing her breasts". Only problem being that like that woman in the window Gustad is quite content to remain the flasher. No revelations here. Only flashes. Of good writing, the occasional smart turn of phrase, a storyline that holds but never realises its promise. Except in the occasional story like "Apprenticeship of an Author" and "An Angel at the Garden", that sustain their quiet tone throughout only to explode in surprise endings that leave one quite happily content. For the rest the less said the better. "Woman on the Verge" is a sixth-rate soap (Sunset Boulevard meets Chorus Line?) that drives you to the brink of despair; "Searching for Gaughin" leaves you searching for both style and substance; "Brothers in the Know" makes you wish you'd never known them.
Or for that matter Gustad. Yet another example of assembly line author, product and con- sequence of the chat-terati-writes-back phenomenon. Goodlooking, smart, knowing in ways that his text isn't. Hype, media interviews, frenzied pre-premiere publicity, smart book jacket replete with quirky author picture, well-timed book reads are part of the smart, all too complete packaging of this book. Only one vital ingredient missing in this package. Good writing.