Why a Suitable Boy may help me find a Suitable Girl

My new favourite book

When I picked up A Suitable Boy, I was thinking to myself that this would be a great book to take on my travels and read. From experience, I should have known that this was wrong. It’s not that I don’t like to read while I’m on holiday, but I tend to be busy doing something or making plans for the rest of the holiday. I’m trying to make the most of the time I have there.

The book is focused on the story of Lata who is our main protagonist. It is set in early 1950s India and set in the fictional town of Brahmpur, prior to the first election in post independent India. She has three suitors who we get to know. Kabir, Haresh and Amit. We focus on her family and how Lata tries to juggle the competing influences from her family (especially her mother and older brother) and her best friend Malati. This is before we even consider her own thoughts about the matter.

Think of many things. Never place your happiness in one person’s power. Be just to yourself.

Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

Our second protagonist is Maan, who is the son of the Minister of Finance and is trying to create a meaningful life for himself. He has fallen in Saeeda Bai (a prostitute and a local singer) after hearing her sing.  With these two having their lives twisted together, Maan heads to the countryside to learn Urdu, while Saeeda Bai believes that Maan is interfering with her work and singing.

As for general plot, that’s all I’m going to reveal. While I understand that it’s a massive book that most people will not read, I’m going to hope that you do read it. However, to talk about the points that I love about this book is going to be hard without giving away spoilers.

Seth’s ability to enthral you in the book is something else, while it took a while for me to start focusing on this book, it is a real page turner. No page is wasted on some random fox in the forest that has nothing to do with the rest of the story (looking at you Tolkien). No, this book doesn’t feel long at all nor do you want it to end. Everything that Vikram Seth has done, paints a brilliant picture of his world.

Oh, no said her mother sadly. You know nothing of the pettiness of women. When brothers agree to split a joint family they sometimes divide lakhs of rupees worth of property in a few minutes. But the tussle of their wives over the pots and pans in the common kitchen–that nearly causes bloodshed.

Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

There is heartbreak, given that there are suitors that you start routing and absolute joy when a character acts in a courageous manner. There are parts that were I genuinely laughed and other parts that I hated and cried. This book me took me through a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts.

The aspect that is hard to describe, is the emotional connection that I had with the book. Going back to this time in India, only leaves me with one grandparent in India, but some of the issues faced in this book still effected other members of my family. The whole story from Maan’s perspective about politics reminded me of myself. The hopes and dreams for an uncertain future. Maybe, I have a rose-tinted glasses when looking at India. It is the motherland after all.

I guess another reason that the book resonated so well, is that I am asking myself such a similar question at the moment. How do I choose a suitable girl? Who to confine in? How to go about and the such. While, Maan’s career is more like my own, Lata’s personal problems are mine. The two protagonists are parts of me. I was able to latch onto them and ask myself, as the story progressed, what I would do in the same situation. While some of those were never answered, when they were… I was able to get an immense satisfaction or great disappointment.

The ifs and buts of history…form an insubstantial if intoxicating diet.”

Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

I do wonder when I reread the novel whose perspective I would most connect with? You are meant to be Malati to some degree in the book, as the best friend of the main character and joining them on their journey, fortunately I’ve been blessed to be in too much of a state to experience that!

I definitely look forward to the BBC adaptation that is coming to screens sometime later this year.

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