I have been a reader for most of my life. The recent boom in Indian English writing has made me very happy and I am one of the biggest fans of Indian English writing. It is indeed remarkable that India has produced so many writers who choose English as a medium of expression. But I have always felt, however good Indian writers are, a front where they have lagged behind is humour. Barring an occasional Jug Suraya, no one has really explored this particular genre well enough. When I started reading Battle for Bittora , I was expecting a nice breezy read with maybe a few startling insights into the rough and tumble world of electoral politics, but what took me by surprise was the inherent thread of subtle ( and at times, wicked) humour running throughout the book. Maybe the title should have alerted me to the author’s irrepressible sense of humour (Bittora in Hindi means a heap of cow dung). And that is the USP of this wonderful story of childhood friends who find themselves on opposite sides of an election.
Sarojini Pandey (Jinni) a twenty-five year old animator suddenly finds herself the candidate for parliamentary elections, thrust on the center stage by her grandmother, an aging but seasoned politician. Then we find out her opponent in the election is none other than Zain Altaf Khan (Zak), a close friend from her growing up days. The two meet after a long time and sparks fly when they discover that they are still hugely attracted to each other. The story moves forward in the dust and grime of Pavit Pradesh where the two engage in a no holds barred electoral battle as the candidates for Pragati Party (PP) and Indian Janta Party (IJP). (There are no prizes for seeing through the thinly disguised allusions to real political parties in present day India.) The curiosity about the eventual outcome eggs the reader on. Who will win? Jinni or Zak? And will they eventually succumb to the mutual attraction they feel despite being on different side of the great political divide? No, I am not going to spill the beans. You will have to read the book to find out.
And the book is good; in fact, very good. The characters are well etched and the pace nice. Sustaining the reader’s interest through-out in a 423 page narrative is no mean feat. Yes, it has a few weaknesses, the main one being that the author looks at the political process through rose tinted glasses. The truth on the ground is far more crude and cruel. But then, the book it has its strengths as well. I have already told you that I loved the inherent sense of fun and the wicked humour. I also liked the fact that the book is unabashedly and unapologetically Indian. It has been written for the Indian reader with no footnotes to explain the Hindi words / Indian perspectives that creep in to (prospective?) foreign readers. (How many of them read our books anyway?)
I will rate this book as 3.5 /5. If you want to order a copy on line please click here .