Diwali 1984. Bimala aka Mummyji, matriarch of Todarmal family is battling for her life in Bombay hospital. Surrounding her are her four children – Rajan, Sunny, Suman and Saroj. All have a stake in Mummyji’s life and death. The centrepiece of this family is family business and wealth. Soon a tug of war for family money is about to be unleashed.
I was sceptical when I started Aftertaste. Blurb said it told story of a Baniya business family of the 80’s – good enough reason for me to be cautious. After all, this is story line of majority soap operas on Indian television today, where women cooking in kitchen are dressed as if they are attending a wedding and chief goal of their lives seem to either conniving against other women of the family or seduce someone else’s boyfriend or husband. I could not have been more wrong.
Aftertaste tells story that is probably one among countless similar stories from India’s business class families. It is story of Todarmal family during early 80s. India is still under Licenseraj, not yet economically opened up and almost all businesses, small and big, are family owned. Only family members are qualified to run the business, there is no professional organisation structure and family matriarch and patriarch hold the key to every decision. All business families are closely knit; yet there are squabbles among siblings, rivalry to gain upper hand in business and most importantly, an unspoken but distinctly visible tussle to corner family wealth. This is a typical Indian joint family drama that has transpired since time immemorial, from Mahabharata to Mughal war of succession.
Mummyji, the matriarch of Todarmal family has ruled the family and business like an undisputed emperor. Her four children, though independent in their own sense are still tied to her by an invisible thread of family business and wealth. Like a master puppeteer, Mummyji pulls these strings, goading, bribing and manipulating her children, all for the sake of family. However, Mummyji is now comatose after heart attack and the rivalry among her children is about to come out in open.
This could have been a melodrama with known twists and turns and stereotype characters. But Namita Devidayal has scored with her restrained portrayal of a dysfunctional family. The book takes us through small incidents that shaped up four Todarmal children – Rajan, Sunny, Suman and Saroj. Business always played a major part in their life. Family ups and down that came with business moulded their insecurities. Author has done justice to each character. Each chapter gives us a peek into a character’s mind outlining his or her rationale for pursuing family wealth and thereby wishing Mummyji’s death.
I especially liked the climax. It would have been very tempting to provide easy solutions to all family problems with “And then they lived together happily ever after” type of ending. But Devidayal has finished the book on a note of cautious hope. Yes, the problems are still there but the siblings have started to find their own footing; Saroj is looking forward to meeting her estranged husband, Sunny and Jassu will probably give second chance to their difficult marriage, Rajan and Sunny are thinking about overcoming their differences and Suman is no longer maniacally pursuing Mummyji’s Jewels.
I think non-Indian readers will enjoy this book more. If you are looking for fast, easy read set in old times, try Aftertaste.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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