Jas Kohli’s book is a guidebook to Ludhiana – not about the touristy parts of the city, how to get there or what to do. You can Google all such trivia. Rather, this book is about people - the city’s inhabitants, or, more precisely, the richer part of the populace. Except for the protagonist, nobody would want to be seen in anything less than a Merc or a BMW. The hearty, almost compulsive good cheer, seems viral. In sum, Kohli’s Ludhiana is paradise with Punjabi subtitles, flashy, loud and intensely brand-conscious, with everyone intent on being as larger than life as possible.
It is the story of Kushal and Reeti. He is rich – but not rich enough for his wife. She is beautiful – so beautiful, her husband says, that when she walks on the road, motorists get distracted. That should have been good enough for the couple to pull on till a beautiful forever. Nevertheless, the serpent enters paradise in the shape of an ex-flame threatening to stage a comeback, and the action starts.
At the beating heart of the novel is a wedding reception. That’s because weddings are not where boy and girl are united in holy matrimony – that’s almost a sidelight. A wedding is a reality show, a brand-building advertisement for the stature of the parties involved. Or, to call a spade a spade, it tells you what the guests are dying to know, viz., how much money the parents have stashed away, and are prepared to spend. Apart from an index of income, weddings are also the platform for both hosts and guests to flaunt their, ahem, other assets. So, women compete fiercely for attention, and the men willingly yield to their instincts for whisky, wit and voyeurism.
Alas, Kohli’s Ludhiana is populated by stereotypes. All the wisecracks about Punjabis that you have ever heard in your life, find their way into the book, fighting off other, less sturdy stereotypes. So, you have a character ‘gulping down five large pegs of whisky every evening and trying to balance them by walking five kilometres in the morning.’ At parties, guests are expected to ‘shake a leg, high on a peg’. Green as Punjab is, every good household is expected to look for greener pastures. ‘If a family in Ludhiana doesn’t have a family member settled across the seven seas, they are labeled lethargic’.
As for the plot, you get most of it in the blurb at the back. So, while the suspense is taut, it is about who will be wearing the cutest lehenga. The most calamitous disaster to strike a wedding party is for two guests to discover that they are wearing the same outfit. As for the raging questions of the day, they are along the lines of: Will he, won’t he roll up in a new car.
Is all this for real? Of course not, it was never meant to be. Caricature must suffice as portrait. We may like to find the truth behind the bluster or look for subtle nuances of character. But that would have to wait for another day, another novel. Ballycumber is the Shashi Tharoor way of describing a book that remains half-read. Well, that’s the one thing that Lights! Wedding! Ludhiana! won’t be. You will read it because it asks for little effort from you. All you need to do is, like the guests at the wedding reception, go with the flow and live life Ludhiana size.
Lights! Wedding! Ludhiana!
Author: Jas Kohli
Price: Rs 295