review

The Pleasure Seekers

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Doshi seems to have written an entire novel in search of answers that she believes will ground her to some sort of reality.
The Pleasure Seekers | Tishani Doshi | Bloomsbury | 316 pages | Rs 499

Doshi seems to have written an entire novel in search of answers that she believes will ground her to some sort of reality.

Fiction can be of different kinds. There are some who write to tell an engaging story. Then there is Tishani Doshi, perhaps really the poet in her, who seems to have written an entire novel in search of answers that she believes will ground her to some sort of reality. Answers—to questions of love, mortality and loss—that prove elusive even to the end.

Really, the basic story, if any, can be summarised in a few brief sentences: Babo, a Gujarati boy, travels to London and promptly falls in love with a Welsh girl, Sian, much to the intense disappointment and disapproval of both their middle-class families. After a forced separation of six months, during which time they both resolutely stand their ground on their desire to be with each other, they are allowed to marry. They then settle in India, which Sian decides is the best place to bring up their two daughters, Mayuri and Bean. The unusually strong and undying love between Babo and Sian forms the basis for examining other relationships around them in this story of four generations of a Gujarati family settled in Madras.

The Pleasure Seekers is a novel that shies away from the dramatic. Nothing much really happens in the lives of the people we meet in these pages, other than their everyday sorrows, joys and selfishness, the weddings, the deaths and the characters’ constant search for true companionship. By Doshi’s own admission, the initial draft of the novel was far more introspective than it is at present, edited and re-edited over the years to connect the family, ever so slightly, to the “larger cosmos”.

Even so, the author’s voice and her presence is loud and unmistakable throughout the novel. If by fictionalising her parents’ romance, she made a conscious choice not to “peel open her family’s history”, the sense the reader gets of encountering her innermost thoughts is also not accidental.

In Chotu (Babo’s younger brother) and Bean’s unending quest for the kind of love that binds Babo and Sian together, and in their intense sense of loss at their repeated failures in love, we sense the seeker in Doshi. In Sian’s guilt at ‘abandoning’ her parents, and in her attempts, in her new life in a strange country, to fill her days and her soul with redemptive and charitable acts, there is Doshi looking for direction, and trying to understand the meaning of home. And in Ba’s (Babo’s grandmother) eternal and unconventional wisdom, we find Doshi ears glued, in order to gain some perspective on
the truths that seem to evade her. Clearly, the omnipresent Tishani Doshi is really the main protagonist of The Pleasure Seekers.