‘You passed out and the bar owners were about to throw your sorry ass out on the street. I intervened and brought you to my hotel. I undressed you, sent your clothes to the laundry, cleaned you up and put you to bed.’
I am completely horrified. Like I said, this doesn’t happen often.
‘Since I am neither your wife, nor your mother, nor your lover, I want you to do something for me,’ she continues.
‘What?’ I ask.
I am a little relieved because I am not sure what a jobless, penniless man can give her.
‘Have sex with me,’ she says without batting an eyelid.
No, this isn’t the start of the novel, though I wish it were because it leaves a reader with probabilities jumping up and down in his or her imagination. This happens when you’re almost expecting it to happen. Now this is precisely what differentiates a novel that thrills and a novel that simply narrates. Sid Bahri has some brilliant twists and turns in his mind but has fitted them all in his novel at places where they just don’t excite you at all. The novel is divided into the, by now a great cliché, alternate chapters being dedicated to the perspectives of the two protagonists – Radhika and Aditya. Yes, there are other characters too but it wouldn’t have mattered even had they remained nameless.
Coming back to the novel, let me say that writers writing in English are now losing their reluctance to pick up facets that are taboo or things that no one really talks about in the open. This novel picks up gigolos. But then it stops at that. See, the moment I realised that the novel had a gigolo being born, I wanted to read the psycho-insights of his birth, the subliminal meanderings during his work day or work night. But none of this happens in the novel. We have a gigolo who doesn’t tell us much about what it means to be one. He is quite content at scratching the surface of his identity during recessionary times and goes on to regale readers with a few dull and a few scintillating moments. So if this is what makes you happy, you’ll love the book.
Before I move to another interesting conclusion about the novel, let me just inform the writer that students of The Lawrence School in Sanawar never like anyone to mistakenly call their school St. Lawrence! And while scanning a wine list in a restaurant, one never says that the ‘prices were obnoxious’! Barring these and a few other expressions or spellings that floated on a few pages, the novel moves on smoothly with whatever narrative the author has decided for it.
After I was a couple of pages into the novel, I just turned the pages and read the final lines:
…for what are we but homing pigeons that have that innate, uncanny ability to find their mate, no matter where you leave them on the face of this earth. She will come back.
…and I thought to myself, ‘Well, this must be some sort of a sublime love story with modern day touches to the famous ones we all have read.’ Well, the story does have lovers and also has lovers who meet and part and then meet again, but I vainly searched for love in the pages. I even went out and stood on my seventh floor balcony observing the habits of pigeons for hours… and all I noticed was that pigeons tend to hop over to any balcony that was potentially free of any human occupation and do their prancing and dirtying there until they impulsively went over to another one. Pigeons just searched for empty balconies to relieve themselves and also to explore if they could be allowed to stay there without paying a rent! I call the pigeons in my area, the shameless ones!
The humans in this novel appeared to me to be doing the same. They were all talking a lot about love but always seemed to gravitate irresistibly towards the fundamentals of relationships that could give them some moments to lust and some more to cry and decry their situation! For this reason, I believe now that Radhika and Aditya maintain their façade of loving each other without really having any reasons to do so. They appeared more like two fishes plunging down a massive waterfall holding fins and then somebody else’s fins and then back to holding each other’s fins… well, I can never imagine real lovers talking to each other like this:
‘I am not sure if I love you,’ he said.
‘And you’re saying that today? After so much has happened?’ I said.
What’s happened?’ he asked.
The divorce and the abortion weren’t happenings? The affair, the love and the passion weren’t happenings?
‘The abortion… didn’t you think this over when we were having sex and you got me pregnant?’
‘How do I know it was mine? You went around drinking with strange men. How do I even know that the child was mine?’ he said.
I took the phone away from my ear just to double check that I hadn’t dialled a wrong number. It wasn’t so much about feeling like a whore but being thought of as one. I was so deeply hurt that words failed me.
‘I am so disgusted. I hate you,’ I screamed in rage.
‘That’s fine. It’s about time you stopped using me,’ he said.
‘Using you? I thought we were in love…’ I said.
I must admit here that the book cover does state: ‘Not all love stories are perfect, but then neither are people.’ If we go by this declaration, I’d say that Sid has stuck to his brief and has done a pretty good job!
For those readers who are forever searching for sublime quotes to copy and paste on their Facebook account, pretending to be more intelligent and clear-sighted than others, this book doesn’t give you much. This can be a great policy for writers who wish to remain away from being plagiarised left and right. So, mind-blowing insights converging into pithy sentences are not really flung into the pages of this book. The nearest I got to one is this one…
Most complications in my life occurred when I enhanced my vocabulary to include words like guilt, morals, and cheating. Ignorance is definitely more blissful.
The novel does move fast, has incidents sequenced well, and doesn’t get into unnecessary descriptions or philosophising. Sid chooses to call a hard nut a hard nut and doesn’t employ euphemisms for it. This is good news for readers who want to hurry up and reach the end before their bus reaches their destination!
Title: The Homing Pigeons
Author: Sid Bahri
Publisher: Srishti Publishers
Price: Rs 150 (in 2013)
23 May 2013