Tuesday, May 08, 2018

First Impressions: Split by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

It's close to midnight now. The sun has set and it's a relief. I've had two heavy meals in the day and can feel the bloat turn into something more dense around m midriff. That's nota good thing. Since I like to sip on something when I'm writing, I've opened a bottle of RAW's Aloe Vera lemonade. I had expected it to taste synthetic. But it's actually good. The agave, ginger, and rock salt make it refreshing.

What does any of this have to do with the review of the book? Nothing much. And that is my observation of the book itself. It's well-written but a lot of what is well-written, I think, wasn't necessary.

Anyway, on with my take.

Noor Khan Rai is a 16-17 year old girl whose mum, a Muslim, left her and har father to be with a childhood lover. At school, Noor is part of a chic circle of girls - called the 'Group'. A routine day involved school, hanging out with the girls, coming home and doing homework, a scheduled conference call with the girls, chat with her parents, music, and going off to bed.

This was the routine until her mother left. One day, Noor comes home to find that her grandmother, dad's mother, has moved in to take care of her. The grandmother is critical of Noor's mum and Muslims in general.

Noor is sad, adrift, and not everything is good with the Group. The head of the group, a tall, beautiful, glowing girl called Armaana is getting nastier and bitchier by the day. One of Noor's closest girl-friends, Natasha, is beginning to act distant. Noor now needs to attend a group counselling session after school  for kids of families that have been broken. This session is first called TOD (I forgot the acronym now) and is later called 'Split'.

There are some really moving parts in the story - when Noor gets a letter from her mother, when she sees past the nasty exterior of one of the girls to see how her family may have broken her spirit, the communion she has with her friends. The parts that shine are Noor's engagement with her life and her navigation of he friendships. Where the narrative feels brittle is when the men come in - especially Ishaan, her love interest.

She's a Delhi girl and he's a Bombay boy and let thoughts of cliches not cross your mind. But they do - the Natual ice-cream parlour, the yearning for the sea, etc. etc. That is where I felt a lot of stuff was unnecessary. I wish the story had delved a little more in the psyche of the mother-daughter relationship. What did each one think?

At times, Noor wonders if there were signs that her mother was giving off before she decided to leave. There were huge fights but she couldn't be sure. That's when I felt protective of Noor. Who hasn't retraced the steps to a crisis to see if it could have been avoided? Especially situations where you have been let down by one you love.

But such instances are few. We see a lot of description of Noor's room, her group's parties, the loo stalls of the school, the kinds of lip gloss girls wear, and how deep and measured and totally fictional Noor's boyfriend is. I mean, it's not like men aren't that way but the fact that a 17 year old is that way was a bit much or me.

The book begins with the author's dedication, "To my mum, who stayed." It ends with Noor's character writing to her mother that ater she has fallen in love with Ishaan, she understands why her mother made the decsion she did.

Somewhere, between the first page and the last, I feel it must have been a brave story to write.

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