Book Review: After Taste
The story of After Taste can be summed up in one sentence: When Bimla Todarmal, aka Mummyji, matriarch and chairperson of a two-generation old mithai business, has a stroke and—spoiler alert —dies, her children figure out they are happier without her because she was a manipulative old hag.
Although the story requires her to roam around the Todarmals’ residence and the hospital, author Namita Devidayal tries to escape as often as she can into density of the old Mumbai neighbourhood of Kalbadevi, with its tangled wires, mottled buildings and gargoyle-esque businessmen. Unfortunately, her descriptions don’t feel vital. Her efforts to depict the mithai as something magical turn Mummyji into an uglier cousin of Tilo, the titular character of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices. At one point, Devidayal introduces a minor character called Anu, who learnt singing from Hindustani classical vocalist Dhondutai Kulkarni, whose life formed the focus of her first book, The Music Room. This, to us, was the most despairing moment in After Taste because it reminded us of the elegance of Devidayal’s storytelling in The Music Room and the complete absence of the same in her new novel.
Very little in After Taste is intriguing. The Todarmals are so bored stiff of their world, it isn’t surprising that the reader finds their lives uninteresting. Devidayal approaches the Marwari family and 1970s India with all the caution of someone trespassing upon private property. She provides little insight through her predictable and monotonous characters. The resolutions at the end are too pat, and despite the competition between the unhappy siblings who want their paws on Mummyji’s money and diamonds, there is barely any tension in the plot. If you can’t guess whether her children find her hidden stash of treasures, then chances are you think Santa Claus is real.
After Taste, Namita Devidayal, Random House, Rs399.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently developing a keen appreciation for lazy brunches and coffee breaks in Bandra while working on her freelance assignments.Tags: Aftertaste, book reviews, Books, Deepanjana Pal, Namita Devidayal, Random House