Title: Pyjamas Are Forgiving; Author: Twinkle Khanna; Publisher: Juggernaut; Pages: 256; Price: 325
This book is the third authored by former Bollywood actress and film producer Twinkle Khanna since 2015. Known as "Mrs Funnybones", the name she goes by in her popular newspaper columns, in the digital world of Twitter, and also the title of her first non-fiction released three years ago, this is her maiden attempt at a novel.
Set in an imaginary upscale wellness retreat called "Shanthamaaya Sthalam" in Kerala, the plot revolves around Anshu, a divorcee from Mumbai in her 40s, who visits the Ayurvedic spa that has a strict regime of taking little food but gulping large quantities of ghee (clarified butter) through the day for body detoxification. She is seeking a solution to her sleep disorder.
Anshu's 28-day-long stay at the spa, which shapes the novel, involves her former husband Jay, who drops in with his new wife Shalini, leading to awkward moments among the trio during the intervening period.
Of the 15-odd characters in the novel, including Anshu, her sister Mandira, and mother, a chief doctor at the centre and fellow residents at the spa, none, sadly, manages to engage, entertain or evoke a reader's interest.
Even as Anshu's stay, which seems never-ending, includes lavish descriptions of the lives of co-residents and their routines, it fails to reveal the depth of the characters, denying readers a chance to relate to any of them.
Twinkle, 43, also an interior designer and wife of Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, began her writing saga with articles on politics, feminism, parenthood and lifestyle in newspapers. She has hundreds of ardent fans for her tongue-in-cheek and witty remarks on everyday issues over the years.
The columns feature political and social subjects explored through humour, including a recent one on: "When facts are not facts, and truth is not plain and simple", which delves on the controversial Rafale aircraft deal between India and France.
But in penning fiction like this and her earlier book, "The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad" (2017), a collection of stories on feminism, though Twinkle's keen observations with humour draw readers to her narrative, her characters are found wanting, which makes reading a painful blather.
Anshu, revelling in the past when she was married to Jay and was fond of him, turns the storyline into a Bollywood-style predictable tale, despite a promising start.
Instances of Anshu's flashes from the past include several dispensable details of her vacations in Europe with Jay. As breeze sweeps away paper napkins at a canteen Anshu walks into, she is reminded of the napkins that flew off the table on the day her marriage ended with Jay, denoting a match-cut type of editing used in Indian cinema.
"I had walked up to the window, pushed it open. The napkins, the disposable pieces of our domestic life, had flown up in the air, then fallen to the floor," Twinkle's ornate description of Anshu's past drifts into excessive detailing, which tires a reader.
As part of the Bollywood fraternity, born to then superstar Rajesh Khanna (1942-2012) and actress Dimple Kapadia, the influence of films in her writing is evident in the book.
Twinkle also subtly drops a few political and social arguments with references to conflicts between Hindu activists worshipping the cow and people of other faiths on eating beef and the #MeToo movement of many women the world over speaking up against sexual harassment they faced.
"The sacred cow had no relevance here in Kerala, unlike in the rest of the country where they would have burned the Prince (a restaurant near the spa) down and slaughtered the grey-haired man who had just finished his lunch, his blue checked shirt stained with beef curry," Anshu tells her sister Mandira, who like a social media troll, responds: "It would serve them right!"
Another instance of a female resident at the spa being sexually assaulted by a male resident provokes Anshu to lament how women are blamed although they are victims of sexual harassment.
The lacklustre characters, including Anshu, despite being portrayed as a strong independent woman, fail to drive home any significant argument in the paper-thin plot.
The book remains unforgiving to its readers through its tedious, uni-dimensional personalities, even as the leading lady compares herself to pyjamas because they are "forgiving" as against a pair of jeans which "hold a grudge", in a possible reference to the serene spa setting in Kerala allowing one to forgive.