Reading Yashodhara Lal’s novel, Sorting Out Sid, is like watching a Bollywood comedy, especially of Priyadarshan type. There is lot of fun and frolic in the first half and then the plot becomes more lifelike, sorting out problems created by the fun and frolic. One difference is that in Lal’s novel, the fun and frolic runs into two-thirds of the book.
That is a major flaw in an otherwise captivating novel. There is something Wodehousean about the novel. The protagonist, Sid [Siddharth], may remind the reader of Bertie Wooster. He gets into all sorts of embarrassing situations because of his immaturity, superficiality and idiosyncrasies. We meet him in the very first chapter walking into his friend Aditi’s house, later than he should have been, and wishing her “Happy Birthday” while it is actually her little son’s birthday. We find Sid in many such comic, sometimes bordering on the farcical, situations. The comedy drags on a bit too much into about 200 pages. Unlike Wodehouse’s, Lal’s comedy fails to be brilliant flashes on human foibles and peccadilloes.
Hence the novel remains a light entertainment for the most part. Occasionally, though, Lal displays flashes of brilliance. For example, the conversation between Aditi, who is a kind of mentor with an ‘elder sister’ bearing , and Sid about the latter’s relationship with Neha who is the lovely, spunky mother of a little kid and separated from her husband:
‘So you’re not serious about her?’ [Aditi asks Sid.]
‘There’s nothing to be serious about.’
‘So you’re not going to sleep with her?’
‘Adu...’ He glared. ‘What is this?’
‘Look. I’m asking because I’m concerned.’
‘That’s a very personal question.’
‘Oh my god, you slept with her on the first date!’
‘I have not! It wasn’t a...’ He swallowed.
The plot is very lifelike. The characters are drawn from the next door. You know them; you have seen them. They belong to our own society, with its superficiality, lack of both emotional and intellectual depth. Rather, unwillingness to probe deep into oneself. Relationships bubble and froth like beer which flows abundantly in the novel. And threaten to fizzle out eventually.
But there are redeeming factors: people who genuinely care, though they are very human too, all too human with the usual foibles and peccadilloes. That is how life actually is. And the novelist has shown us that life.
However, the author’s failure to bring in the “intensity” of life keeps the novel a light comedy. Life is not “all fun and games, after all,” as the novel itself says. But that realisation comes a little too late, on page 301. By that time, the reader is saturated with an excess of “fun and games”.
When Shelley declared that “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” he was not merely being petulant. The deep truths of life lie far beneath superficial fun and games which the contemporary world, especially of the economically better off, has become addicted to. There is a touch of melancholy about those truths. Lal tries to touch that melancholy but fails.
“Tears and laughter are, aesthetically, frauds,” asserted Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher and essayist. A good novel probes deep beneath both laughter and tears to show the deeper meanings of human existence.
Sorting Out Sid rises to a certain degree of eminence in the third and last part. Sid approaches the ineluctable self-understanding.
For those who love light reading, the novel is a boon. Personally, I felt that Yashodhara Lal is capable of more depth.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Harper Collins India for sending me a free copy of the book, autographed by the author, in association with the Book Review Project of Indiblogger.