Anuja Chauhan and her books need no introduction; nor do they need any endorsement. Battle for Bittora is the second book of Ms Chauhan. Published in 2010, this book was again in the news recently, as it is soon to be made into a movie, starring Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan.
Sarojini Pande (Jinni Pande), an animator at Pixel Animation, creates and animates kitaanus (germs in Hindi) for a living.
Pushpa Pande (PP), her grandmother, is a redoubtable politician and ex-MP from Bittora. She belongs to the Pragati Party.
Zain Altaf Khan (ZAK) is the last descendent of the royal family of Bittoragarh.
The parliamentary elections in India have been announced. The battle-lines are drawn between the Pragati Party and the IJP (Indian Janata Party – a Hindu hardliner party) to capture power at the centre.
The parliamentary seat of Bittora is a stronghold of the Pragati Party, which the IJP is keen on wresting from the PP. The search is on for suitable candidates. IJP, looking to refurbish its image as a secular, egalitarian party, decides to field ZAK (a Muslim of royal lineage) as its candidate. Pushpa Pande, ex-MP and wife of a freedom fighter, wanting to secure the Bittora parliamentary seat as a family legacy, gets the seat for her granddaughter. Thus we have Jinni (representing PP) and ZAK (representing IJP) pitted against each other for the parliamentary seat of Bittora.
Battle for Bittora is a hilarious account of the elections in India – starting right from choosing candidates, up to the time of swearing-in of MPs in the Lok Sabha. One gets an insider’s view to an entire range of incidents that happen during an election campaign – dynastic politics, religion/caste vote-bank based strategies, buying out the also-rans, fudging expenses, door-to-door campaigning, public meetings, being tracked by observers of the EC etc. Though the political angle of the story might stand on its own, the love story of the protagonists is what keeps the reader engaged.
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- Characters I could identify with – Pushpa Pande’s behaviour closely resembled that of a close politician relative I had. I have a theory that politicians exhibit borderline Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is typified in PP’s character. She uses the “royal we‘ to refer to herself. 🙂 . Then we have the sycophant side-kicks that politicians have, exemplified in Gudiya aunty.
- The true-to-life dialogue. Rather than speak in chaste English, the characters use accented language and the local idiom, which make them authentic. Eg. PP says “When ij last date to withdraw nominasun?” and another – “This Urvashi is a fool! … once before he said we would lose and we swept! If this time he ij saying ki Sarojini will win, then let us all shave our heads and go into morning now only!”
- The election and the campaigning with all the politicking, strategies based on religion/caste demographics of constituencies, behind the scene maneuvering, deal-making, are all described with a humorous touch. Being the daughter-in-law of Senior Congress leader, Ms Margaret Alva, Ms Chauhan could have had access to numerous anecdotes related to the elections.
- Reading the author’s description of Jinni’s holidays in Bittora reminded me of my own summer holidays in small towns.
- Many of the characters like, Top Brass, are modelled on real-life persons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pushpa Pande was modeled on some politician.
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- The most annoying part of reading this book was that in a lot of words containing “tl” it was bunched together into a “d”. So we have secredy, litde, setded etc. instead of secretly, little, settled etc. I wonder if the e-Book sold by Flipkart is legal! It seems to be a “scan to text” job. There was no cover-page either!
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- The insanely gorgeous, hard to emulate male protagonist – ZAK. These female writers of romance, starting from Jane Austen right up to Anuja Chauhan, create heroes who are, handsome, daring, charismatic, chivalrous and loving, that it is hard for ordinary men to live up to that ideal.
- In contrast, the female lead is a caricature of a person – insecure, clingy, always-ready-to-fall-into-the-arms-of-The-Hero kind of person. Don’t get me wrong – Jini is a strong personality on her own – but she loses herself in the presence of the hero. This stereotyping of male leads can be seen in all 3 of Chauhan’s books. In the case of the female lead, only Debjani of “Those Pricey Thakur Girls”, seems to hold her own. Of course, Chauhan’s books do not strictly fall under the category of romance but would classify as Romcoms, so this may be pardoned.
- The irony of a Muslim guy from a Royal family, being the candidate for a Hindu hardliner party, and a brahmin girl being the candidate of a “secular” party.
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- The language is explicit in places. I’m giving it a PG-14 for language and content.
A political potpourri with romance thrown in for good measure.