I have read few other books of Abha Dawesar but “Family Values” is a completely different type of book I have ever read. The most peculiar thing about this book is that the author has avoided any real names. All the characters in the book are named either on their profession, relationship or quirks like boy, cousin, doctor, sugar-mills, six fingers and so on. Even the name of city or streets are not mentioned at all in the book. Delhi is just referred to as Capitol and Chandigarh is planned city. In the beginning it sounded a bit jarring to me but then the names grow on you and you actually start liking these names and they make a lot of sense.
The book is written from the perspective of a boy who watches the world around him. His world is his small home which is also a clinic for his doctor parents. There are so many relatives with each one of them having some issue or the other in family. The author has interconnected the story with current events of that time but never referring to them by exact name. The events like Jessica Lall murder, Nithari Killings, Stolen Kidneys, Arms Kickbacks and so many other things are mentioned in great detail. The boy is trying to make sense of it all and often wondering what adults are up to.
I liked the book for its bold and different narrative but after some time it tends to become very depressing. At the same time what is mentioned in the story is the stark reality of relationships and family values. At one place I ended up laughing really loud where a name is mentioned as “Elder Brother Goddess Red”. You need to know the politics of state of Haryana in India and a bit of Hindi to be able to understand this.
The reason I picked up this book was due to the name Chandigarh in the title, my favorite city. I had heard of the author Nayantara Sahgal before but I had not read anything from her. She is daughter of VijayLakshmi Pandit and related to Nehru-Gandhi family. “Storm in Chandigarh” is the story of interpersonal relationships of few couples who lived in Chandigarh when the division of Punjab into Haryana was being worked out.
My hopes from the book were to get to know more about that time and also learn about history of division which later resulted in so much unrest. Chandigarh was the jewel crown of Punjab and was created to replace Lahore, erstwhile capital of Punjab. It was the best planned city with a great vision of future. Both Punjab and Haryana wanted it to be their capital. In the end, Chandigarh remained undivided and to this date it is capital for both Punjab and Haryana. But the book disappoints in that aspect and provides very little of historical aspects. In the story, a civil servant is sent from Delhi to oversee the transition process but very little is written about his work or how it influenced the shaping of Chandigarh.
The book focuses more of the relationship of Jit and Maya; Inder and Saroj, two couples who are going through difficult times in their life. The book takes a look at their extramarital relationships, issues of husband and wife and families. For today’s age such topic is no longer fascinating as it has stopped to arouse any curiosity but in 1969 when this book was written, it must have been very bold.
Overall, the book became very boring and was tough to finish till end. But it was good to read about Chandigarh, however little it was in the book.
I do not remember anytime from early childhood when I was not a member of any Library or a regular member at local book-shop that rented books. Every time we changed house or went to a new city, I used to try to find a place where I could browse for books and then take them out for reading. Sometimes, I could find large libraries and sometimes I could find only small book-shops that dealt with old books and will give these books on rent. A perfect weekend always included going to a library and spending time there browsing through books, sometimes finding new authors and genres, sometimes picking up on old ones and sometimes just sitting there going through many newspapers and magazines.
Before the Google era, I used to go to library for my questions and always felt that I would find answers there. When I was bored or down or happy, library was the place to go and day would pass just like that. I remember browsing through huge encyclopedias and pictures books that would have been too expensive to buy and learning lot of stuff. Then there were some not very popular sections but hiding some really great books. Most of these libraries had restriction on number of books one could borrow and that was the most tricky part. At the end of library visit, I would always have too many books and then I had to choose the best and then hope that when I visit next time, I will still be able to find the remaining ones.
I would like to mention about two of these libraries that have been most important. One was central library in Chandigarh, where I was member for many years. That place has been most influential in creating the habit of reading English books in me. Another was the office library of C-DOT where I worked for many years. Normally, corporate libraries are not that great but the librarian here was really good and he had nurtured this place for many years making it one of the best source of technical information.
Wow, this is my 50th post.