Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents its third review!
The blurb at the back of Neel Kamal Puri’s novel, The Patiala Quartet urged me to buy the novel. Of course, it helped that the book was on sale. But nonetheless, it aided me in understanding what the book is about rather than irrelevant praises that do not allow one to know what the story is about!
So lets see the blurb, shall we?
As the blurb suggests, the debut novel of Neel Kamal Puri, The Patiala Quartet is a short, succinct story set in the Punjab of the 1980s centered on a pair of cousins: Monty and Minnie and Karuna and Michael.
Each sibling has their own quirk and idiosyncrasy. Michael loves the motorbike which is a route of escape for him from his abusive father.
Monty becomes the recluse who loves to study. He never fit in with the kids. While the rest loved to carry on with their childhood masti, he preferred to study, making him a misfit in his own way.
Karuna socially learnt silence and being apologetic from her mother’s submission to her abusive father. Yet she still had the guts to speak up when it was needed, breaking free from her socially constructed and expected silence.
Minnie, on the other hand, was always the bold one who took steps to change her life be it jobs or applying abroad for study.
Their lives intertwined with a plethora of other myriad characters such as Karuna’s relentless lover, Croaky, who was trying to make a name for himself through marriage, or Karuna’s NRI husband who did not shy away from making perfect round rotis. Michael’s rollicking innocent friendship with Balwinder, one of the workers on their ancestral farm on the outskirts of Paitala.
Then there is their family itself, the mothers are unnamed but tied by blood and distinctive traits: one married in wealth but not love and the other married the man of her choice and later on lost her teeth because of a poorly executed decision; their maternal grandmother who ferociously took care of the farm, the hyper masculine, Lalli, Karuna and Michael’s father or their quirky Aunt Veer who had taken great pains to not get married (like dyeing her hair orange or putting on braces to shock the groom’s side!). Aunt Veer is one those stereotypical Indian aunts that one has who does not marry and is one of the cool aunts! 😀
A Quick Word
Set in Patiala in Punjab, the beginning of the novel itself brushes upon the idea of belonging and who qualifies to belong to that city. It takes a jibe at the royalty for thinking that they are the only ones who truly belong. It then traces how the relationships in Patiala can be solely based on the need to belong and the need to hobnob with the social elite.
Royalty is not the only thing Neel Kamal Puri pokes fun at. The entire novel is quite lighthearted in its tone, laying bare the facade that people put on through her sarcastic jibes. She is satirical about all aspects and all characters. No one is spared from her unforgiving yet precise observations.
Another particularly charming aspect of the story is how the two female cousins grow up and in the end of the story, find solace with each other, along with strengthening their earlier solidarity. Both Karuna and Minnie took widely different paths yet were bonded to each other through the past and through advice. Later their diverging paths met in a far away country where they were racked by guilt, particularly Minnie. The fact that they survived the story and not the boys also shows their fortitude and perseverance in a different form. They did not have to struggle through any specifically obvious and tremendous obstacle but perhaps the small things such as society’s view of women or simply the fact of belonging can irk some enough to fight it as well. They overcome that or at least have tried to which in itself can be quite a struggle. In that way, though, The Patiala Quartet, is about four siblings (hence the name quartet: title fetish strike two!), its focus later on on the two sisters and their growth highlights the bildungsoman nature of the novel. For once, it is not about the boys surviving their ordeals and violence but rather how the girls survived the many invisible barriers that came their way. They carved their own space despite the society’s ill wills and poisonous gossiping.
Though many on Goodreads complained about how the characters of The Patiala Quartet could have been more fleshed out, I did feel that the author excelled at showing so much about different character quirks in so less. Of course, we do not really get to know the thoughts and reflections of the other characters but that itself also lends to the story a very anecdotal quality that still allows the reader to connect with the characters.
This post is part of the Blurb Appreciation Reviews series!
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