Reading Anuja Chauhan’s Chutnified Novels

by Harshita Nanda

Most of us are aware of authors like Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, who are feted in the West. There are, however, many other Indian authors who write beautifully and connect very well with the Indian masses. This piece by Harshita Nanda is about one of her favourite contemporary authors, Anuja Chauhan, who is seen as a chick-lit writer, but if you read carefully you might be surprised.

The Amazon Bestseller list is a tricky place to buy a book. Since they are best-sellers you know the books are on top of the charts, but whether the book you have picked will suit your reading palate remains a question mark till the book finally reaches you. I have been lucky and not so lucky on picking out books from the bestsellers list (the hazards of online shopping) but the one book I stuck gold was with Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan.

I was hooked right from the first page of this book about four daughters of a retired judge. The love story of Debjani (Dabbu) and the half-Rajput/half-Catholic Dylan Singh Shekhawat had me engrossed. The description of playing kot-piece and eating Maggi in the lawn brought a smile to my face and a longing to do the same (somehow people don’t play Kot-piece anymore). I raced to finish the book and hurriedly ordered her previous two books, The Battle for Bittora and The Zoya Factor. Needless to say, I devoured them as well and impatiently waited for the sequel of Those Pricey Thakur Girls, The House That BJ Built. Her latest book Baaz was also worth the wait and I finished it in two days flat. Now I can only hope that she starts on her new book soon!

On the surface it’s likely that you feel all her books are similar: there is a dashing hero, a pretty heroine, both having different ideologies and goals in life. Nonetheless, sparks fly when they meet. Would they or won’t they get together continues till finally everyone lives happily ever after. Yet why is she rated as one of the best rom-com authors of India and why do her books fly off the shelves?

One phrase that you can pick from her latest book Baaz, to describe her writing is:” Baaz-ke-maphik”! Her writing is breezy, light, with loads of Hinglish words. Her characters consist of opinionated heroines, good-looking heroes and support cast who stay with you long after you have closed the book. Thus you are not only engrossed in Dabbu/Dylan’s or Shanu/Tehmima’s story but also in Dabbu’s sister’s stories or the story of Baaz’s friends and his family. So you eagerly pick up  The House that BJ Built, as it reintroduces all the characters of Those Pricey Thakur Girls even though the book is about Bonu and Samar Vir. You somehow want to know how the older characters fared in life.

Her USP is her writing in the tone of her character. While you are reading her books you don’t read the words, rather you “hear” them as dialogues. You can hear the drawl of Dylan, the rustic Haryanvi of Chimman Singh, the UP English of Pushpa Pande. And the humour! There is plenty of wit and tongue-in-cheek humour. You tend to read her books with a grin on your face. What makes the experience even better is you “hear” the characters “talking’. When Pushpa Pande tells Jinni to do ”motion” on the train you can feel Jinni’s embarrassment and fall off laughing as you can recall your grandmother telling you to do the same!

The descriptions of the settings are vivid… It is almost as if the scene is being enacted in front of you with the characters saying the dialogues.  When she describes Judge Thakur playing kot-piece with his friends on the lawn with the table fan on, you can imagine the setting and almost smell the summer grass. It takes you back to the countless summer holidays spent exactly the same way. Each novel is set in a different setting in a different era. So while Those Pricey Thakur Girls is set in the Lutyens Delhi of the 80s and is all about news reporting, The Battle for Bittora is all about UP and the sleaziness of politics and elections; Baaz is all about the war of 1971.

This is a good time for those who love to read Indian authors as there is a plethora of Indian writers writing in English across all genres. On one hand, you have stalwarts like Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, and Vikram Seth while on the other you have the new crop of authors like Amish, Ashwin Sanghi, and Anuja Chauhan churning out best-sellers. There is now a demand for stories about India to which the reader can relate to. Anuja Chauhan after conquering the Advertising world with her tag lines of “Yeh Dil Mange More” has now been conquering the fiction bestseller lists with her chutnified novels. Chutnification, a term coined by Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children, means changing an Indian word into an English one. This chutnification has been made into a fine art by Anuja Chauhan.  So while her writing is in English you have a few Hindi words sneaking in. For example, the train rather than rocking on the rails as any English writer would have written, goes khata-khat in her novels, making it more Indian- something that many Indians relate to when we think of the clanking of the train. .It is this chutnification which draws readers to her books as they can relate to the settings as well as to the language. It is the language spoken by young India which she has somehow captured so beautifully and seamlessly in her books that it doesn’t feel odd at all to read words like khata-khat/phata-phat in her books. She has in fact made chutnification a very acceptable part of book writing.

I do admit that Anuja Chauhan books are fluff, but if you read carefully even her fluff has layers. The main characters are usually of different stations in life and in some cases even of different religions. The religion factor is neither overplayed or downplayed in her books, keeping it very matter of fact. The friction between the main characters is also about ideologies, making us see two different viewpoints. The book, The House that BJ built shows how property and “hissa” can sour relations even with the closest of sisters. Those Pricey Thakur Girls touches upon news reporting and freedom of the press. Baaz deals with the differences in nationalism and pacifism. In fact in Baaz, the heroine, Tinka, even quotes Gurudev on the issue of blind nationalism, very pertinent in today’s saffron-coloured India. In Bollywood analogy, her books are not purely Karan Johar but have a mix of Shoojit Sircar and Anurag Basu thrown in. Her books not only entertain but also, if you are a deep reader, make you think a little. If however, entertainment is all you are after, by all means, pick up any of her books, she will put a smile on your face!

Harshita Nanda is an engineer-turned-voluntary homemaker. She likes to read instead of finishing laundry and consequently needs to keep buying more clothes and books. She has recently taken to writing and her work can be found at
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