Family Planning by Karan Mahajan

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Family Planning by Karan Mahajan

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Melony Sanders
Reviewed by Melony Sanders
Summary: A supposedly humorous look at a modern family in Delhi, which unfortunately doesn't really go anywhere.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 272 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099523291

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Mr Rakesh Ahuja is Delhi's Mister of Urban Development and so far, has managed to do well in his career. However, his family life is beginning to take over - he already has thirteen children and a fourteenth is on the way. The eldest, Arjun, now a teenager was born to Mr Ahuja's first wife, but up til now, Arjun is unaware of this fact. Sangita Ahuja, the long-suffering wife, is aware that her relationship with Arjun may never be the same again. Meanwhile, Arjun is only interested in one thing - how to attract the attention of the gorgeous girl on his school bus. What will happen to the family when Mr Ahuja finally tells the truth?

Having developed an interest in Indian literature and film recently, I was pleased to get hold of this book. The author lives in the States and published this, his first book in 2008. It has received a lot of praise from a wide range of people, and I had great expectations for it, especially as it is described as a comic novel. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite see why it has been so well received - at times, it was dull and I certainly didn't see what was so comic about it.

Things did not go well from the start. The first page refers to Mr Ahuja's sexual feelings towards his wife - only when she is pregnant. I am not a prude and don't mind sexual descriptions in literature, but I didn't expect to find it on the first page and I thought it was rather unnecessary. It certainly didn't endear me to Mr Ahuja as a character, although I immediately felt sorry for his poor wife. True, the book is about family planning, so sex was likely to come into the proceedings at some point, but why throw the reader in at the deep end?

Frankly, Mr Ahuja is a bit of a twit. He may be a Government Minister, but he doesn't seem to have much of an idea of how to raise his brood and his treatment of his wife is cursory - unless he wants sex. He is partially deaf and doesn't hear a lot of what goes on around him and even when he is at work, he doesn't come across as being particularly competent. Yet his family loves him and he certainly seems to love them - with the exception of his wife. Maybe Mr Ahuja is a man's man and will make more sense to male readers; personally, I thought he was a waste of space.

His son, Arjun, is marginally more likeable. He is a teenage boy lusting after a girl and doesn't really think about much else. He has always though of Mrs Ahuja as his mother and loves his siblings - but is very aware that recently, his mother has been preventing him from caring for the children as much as he used to. Arjun is just a typical teenage boy - he could be of any nationality. His character does get more interesting towards the end of the book as the news is revealed. Unfortunately by then, it is too little too late.

Mrs Ahuja is much more interesting as a character, which is a great shame as she is very much sidelined. We do find out how she came to be married to Mr Ahuja though. He was due to marry her beautiful sister, but her mother wanted to get rid of the ugly daughter and keep the beautiful one, something Mr Ahuja didn't realise until it was too late. Since then, apart from having babies, she hasn't had much of a life. Her story was by far the most interesting - I really would have liked to have found out more about her feelings - but it was not to be.

I was really looking forward to reading a book about life in modern India. There are a few cultural references, which were interesting, but on the whole, the family could have been in any country across the world. The story ought to have been compelling, but I didn't really find it so - at times, I found myself reading pages and then realising I hadn't taken it in and would have to go back. And I couldn't believe it when I reached the end. It is so unexciting, I honestly thought that I had missed a couple of pages. Nothing was really finished off and I was left feeling very flat and dissatisfied.

As for the book being a comedy - I really struggle with this. Having read a number of reviews on Amazon, it is clear that quite a few people disagree, but I just didn't find it funny. I didn't laugh once, or even crack a smile. Perhaps you need to be Indian to really appreciate the humour - but I read a wide range of foreign literature and have never had a problem understanding humour from other cultures before. I found the whole thing rather mystifying to be honest - and a little bit childish.

I found this book disappointing on a number of levels. I don't really see what the point of the book was. The story didn't really go anywhere, I didn't find it amusing and there was no real educational value in the descriptions of another culture. Having said that, if you want a very light and silly read, and don't mind the sexual references on the first page, then you could do worse than give it a try. After all, there are clearly many people who liked it much more than me.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy reading humorous books about modern life for other cultures, then you will also enjoy Brothers by Yu Hua and The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith.

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