Book 1: Calcutta Then and Now (1890-1990), the author tries to do an AS Byatt
The first section of Two Worlds is Nandita C Puri’s attempted tribute to AS Byatt’s Possession. The chapters alternate between two Bengali girls, Ela Sen and Oona Roy.
Ela is growing up during the Bengali renaissance, and lives on the edge of social norms by dating the Anglo-Indian David, while spurning potential suitors lined up by her father. Oona, who is growing up during the 1980s, teeters on her own edge by dating the American Craig and spurning potential suitors lined up by her mother.
Ela, unable to reconcile her father’s and her lover’s wishes, in an unintentionally hilarious denouement to this first section, literally jumps off the edge — of a cliff. And Oona, an intrepid journalist by now, falls in love and moves to Bombay.
Book 2: Bombay 1990-2009, where the author tries to do a Shobhaa De
Once in Bombay, Oona gets hitched to B-Grade film producer Anand Khanna. And so begins the mind-numbing 180-odd pages of thinly-veiled Bollywood name dropping, Shobhaa De style.
Oona’s marriage crumbles, she realises life isn’t all Manolo Blahniks and DeBeers, and promptly falls for the super-hunky Riz Khan who specialises in making her “erupt like a volcano” (no-kidding!). And erupt the book does — into page after page of badly written erotica and text-speak conversations. Predictably, here too, the relationship runs into trouble and Oona flees into the muscled arms of Hector, a childhood flame living in London.
Book 3: London and Wales 2009-2010, where the author tries to do something…and gets confused
In London, after a long and uneventful hiatus, the Ela Sen track makes a comeback. Oona hunts down David’s (Ela’s lover) descendants with help from Hector and his brother. While Hector proves to be a misogynistic sex addict, Oona runs into Keelan, David’s direct descendant. They’re a perfect match genealogically, Oona being Ela’s grand niece, and in an extremely contrived ending, Oona and Keelan marry each other — finally mending the broken love of their doomed ancestors. And the heavens weep.
This book is as much about strong women as War And Peace is about fluffy bunnies. The two protagonists constantly fret about the men in their lives, without doing anything substantial with their time. While Byatt in Possession infuses every page with the smells and textures that makes Victorian England an essential character in the narrative, Two Worlds, for all the spatial feeling it invokes, could very well be set in a volcanic crater on Mars. The main problem with this book is that it just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It is part-historical-fiction, part-gossip novel, part-Mills and Boons romance, and ends up being a full-fledged bore.