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Book of Bainjal

Disclaimer: This is not a review, these are my views on the book, contains spoilers (as if anyone’s gonna read it).

There are books and there are bad books. New fad is ‘journalists’ turning authors and writing bad fiction. First it was Rana Ayyub with her Gujarat Lies which she claimed was non-fictional investigative journalism of Sohrabuddin encounter case (where she mysteriously talked of 2002 riots, and implied Amit Shah was Home Minister – too many loopholes, man!) and now it is Swati Chaturvedi who has written “Daddy’s Girl”.

I was most excited to read this.

From first two pages you could see it has fictionalised Aarushi Talwar murder case. As if the case itself wasn’t mockery of justice, we needed a fictionalised version of the same to make fun of.

When Ambika (yeah) is found dead by her parents, her mother opens the door for the maid. Swati describes her appearance as “tears streaking down her face, her make-up clown-like” and “Parents stared with hunger at the body of their daughter” – WHAT KIND OF PARENTS STARE AT THEIR DEAD DAUGHTER HUNGRILY? What kind of monster is she?

The story is about an investigative journalist “Meera” and how she follows the case of Ambika. She has a boyfriend, who likes to throw expensive dinners at five-seven star hotels and doesn’t understand Meera and her work. “Baby, why do you need to work so hard?” he insists, and even though the feminist that Meera is, she kisses him because after all, he is paying for the expensive drink.

In first few pages, she touches upon casteism, feminism and also implies how the pretty 25 year old Meera gets her ‘sources’ like a top cop, whom she fondly nicknames “Shoe Polish” (because of his dark dyed hair), to confide in her by wearing tight, bright red clothes and lipstick and batting her eyelashes. There go all the hard work I ever put in in my 2 year journalism stint to get a story. I wish I knew how to bat eyelashes.

She says Meera lives on her nerves, Combiflam and cold coffee. Except, every real reporter actually survives on chai, sutta and gutkha. One day she is so stressed, she gets nosebleed – this was so bizarre, I thought she was using nosebleed as a creative euphemism of getting her period. She then goes on to say how she had a deal with the Shoe Polish that she’ll print a story (without verification) only if he hands over the post mortem report. Well, we now know how stories are printed in news.

Her work place, “National Express” has an editor in chief who is planning a front page scoop of coup by the Army. Bainjal really doesn’t like Shekhar Gupta, no? She describes Meera’s colleagues as:

Meera walked into the ratty environs of the grandly titled Special Investigative Bureau. As usual, her colleagues eyed her with cold disdain. Meetu was gossiping with the sports editor, while Anjali, who hated last names and wore sarees draped to reveal her hairy stomach and whose low-cut gravity defying blouses dropped regularly in front of sources and editors to ensure a page one display, was hogging the single landline as usual. Raman seemed napping upright.

She further describes Anjali:

Meera also could not abide with her black and white views what she felt was Anjali’s moral flabbiness and a lack of mettle, as she was known to sleep with sources to get scoops. It irritated Meera to no end. She hated the fact that she lowered the bar for every woman.

Anjali was married to a journalist, well over fifty years old, called Rakesh, who, much to his acute embarrassment, she called ‘Roks’, and was simultaneously sleeping with a womanising cabinet minister and a cop.

Wow. She even dresses up in plunging Roberto Cavalli top, which she had on with clinging black Gucci trousers and stilettos. Before you wonder how can a journalist afford it, she explains she had saved her entire six months salary, often going without lunch and only buying petrol to buy the ensemble. Now few things: She is twenty five. Roughly 3-4 years experience (since she does go to college – so graduating at 21/22, by the time you are 25, you’d have 3-4 years experience) and she has already been a special correspondent. Funny because in publication, bureaucracy is even more prevalent. You join as trainee correspondent, which lasts a year, then for 2 years you are a correspondent, then 2 more you are senior correspondent and only then you become special correspondent. So, at 25, her being special correspondent in “special investigative bureau” is bullshit.

Also, one might wonder why can’t her boyfriend, who spends his life in star hotels, eating and drinking expensive stuff, and even her own father who is additional secretary in home ministry, couldn’t buy her stuff when she has no qualms about kissing her boyfriend because he was kind enough to buy her expensive drink. Jeez. She has probably tried to model the protagonist on herself, you know, because fiction is always inspired from real life, but she hasn’t done enough justice. Meera doesn’t come as psychotic as Bainjal herself comes across as.

And then of course, there’s the angle of paedophilia. Was Ambika killed by her father because he was molesting/raping her?

Meanwhile, Cuckoo Nalwa (Ambika’s mother) was in her sister’s house and was vacantly staring into space, wondering which way her husband was fucking Anju.

Right, that’s what people do.

This is how she describes a fictional cabinet minister:

“Hi, you look amazing; so voluptuous and curvy! In fact, I just composed a poem on my cell phone just looking at you earlier. Should I read it out to you?” he asked, grinning lasciviously. Meera stared at him. His weirdly growing shock of white hair made his face look like it was expanding and his odd hair was matched by his straggly nose and ear hair. He seemed oblivious to his looks and imagined that all the women were chasing him because of his irresistible charm.

Meera looked straight at him and said, “Not now, Amit. If you wrote it on your cell phone, maybe you could forward it to me.”

“Oh, come on, love!” he replied without an iota of embarrassment. “You know the reason I like you so much is because you are so cruel.”

Meera cringed, ‘And ‘love’? Why are you calling me that?”

“Because I love you so,” he leered. “Meera, please let me cook lunch for you; I am an excellent cook – one of my many skills,” he continued smugly.

Now, do we know any former minister who fit the description? Does he look like Peter Pettigrew?

Peter Pettigrew

Peter Pettigrew

The character of Meera is so superficial, she borders on being annoying. You feel like slapping her a few times and tell her to shut the fuck up. And that she is not as important as she thinks she is.

But the more you read, the more you realise how she has not only made a mockery of Aarushi Talwar murder case, but also used this as an excuse to take our her personal vendetta against the former government. The “home minister” is a South Indian man with dimples. Wants to teach. Like, we couldn’t see who she is talking about in a sly way.

And then Meera gets migraines and gets depressed and also panic attacks and anxiety, all used in the sense of mental illness, and to think Swati calls herself a journalist. And the whole ‘toxic and jealous’ office environment she has created for Meera. Well, she’s 25, with like 3-4 years experience. No one gives a shit in journalism. Been there for 2 years and let me tell you – no journalist likes other journalist. Their show of solidarity is fake. Having said that, no one ‘hates’ others to ‘go after’ stories. Mostly because each of them are so self absorbed they think they are the best.

Meera goes about blackmailing all high profile IAS officers, ministers, police officers – because she is a journalist. Hmm. Maybe this *is* semi autobiographical for Swati.

Meanwhile, she continues to develop the characters of the Nalwas. Arjun, the father of the dead girl, is a sex maniac. He has a mistress, Anju (well, as I said, wife’s name is Cuckoo. :|) Here’s how his typical work day, few days after his daughter was murdered in their house looks like:

Moments later, he buzzed his assistant and said abruptly in Punjabi, ‘Schedule a session of ten briefings for her at Rs. 20,000 each and for today, bill the client Rs. 1 lakh for a seven-hour conference.’

Sitting down, feeling some satisfaction, he checked his phone and saw three missed calls from Anju.

What now? he thought with mounting concern and called her back. Anju was in her usual amorous mood and asked him in a grotesque parody of sexiness, ‘What are you wearing, angel?’

Arjun frowned and said drily, ‘I am in the chambers; so, clearly, a suit.’

‘How sexy! I always wanted to do it in your chambers. Wouldn’t you love it?’

Looking upwards, Arjun wondered fleetingly when and why he had been so attracted to her, but said smoothly, ‘You called, sweets. All okay?’

Sounding vague Anju said, ‘Yeah, I was just wondering when are we having a party, darling. It’s been a long time.’

Fucking whore, he thought, but said aloud, ‘Soon, babe. You plan it.’

‘Will you bring the bitch?’ asked Anju querulously.

‘You know the rules, sweets,’ said Arjun, trying to evade a quarrel.

‘Well, if you must. I just want sex and lots of it,’ said Anju throatily.

Again, he is main suspect in his daughter’s murder, he is apparently politically very well connected, has a shady past, has a ‘reporter’ after him, and has a wife named ‘Cuckoo’. Okay, then.

It only gets ridiculous from here.

Every time Meera talks to a ‘source’ high profile cop who’s investigating the case, she is looking for a scoop. And she considers it all ‘dope’. As a reader who has actually read better thrillers, these ‘dopes’ are so blah that you come to realise that it’s not the information she is excited about as a reporter, but as a reporter, she is excited that she will be able to twist the ‘dope’ and create a fictitious ‘news report’ around it for next day’s edition. Clearly, Swati is giving us an insight into a reporter’s mind and how stories are written and planted in newspaper for our consumption. Fiction is indeed inspired from real life and this is an amazing window into the mind of Swati. Maybe we should all relook her ‘breaking’ stories and reinvestigate them for truth.

Driving back to her office, she luxuriated in the information. This was brilliant! Which story should I break first? This was such a feast! What would the Nalwas most likely deny? The anticipatory bail would provoke a feeding frenzy across the media and she could debut Mrs Nalwa as a possible killer, sourced to the police’s new suspicion that she as more than an accomplice. Meera wondered if she should also break the story of the murder weapon being the Mauser pistol. That was an eight-column filer that would be printed across all editions.

Investigating officer has issued summons for 7 am and Cuckoo spends an hour getting ready and then ‘gloats’ when her exceptionally bizarre behaviour irritates her husband. It is so bizarre! I have read dark books where there are horrible people doing horrible things, but nothing as bizarre as the characters in this ‘book’ do. Since the characters never developed, their strange behaviour comes across as they are perpetually high and live in Swati’s world, who I am sure has some really great quality stocked up to come up with characters which reflect her own state of mind – bizarre. The end leaves you confused, wondering why did you even spend so much time reading this piece of garbage.

At best (and worst) the book (if you may call it so) is a rant and a mirror of her incoherent tweets, which suggest she probably should see a therapist.

Should’ve read Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl instead.

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