Wordfreak aka Aryan and Worddiva aka Alisha hit it off as opponents in an online Scrabble game. Several steamy chat sessions later, they decide to meet and find – oh happy fates! – that neither is a fat, hairy, psycho/ serial killer/ rapist. Even better, they are both impossibly gorgeous, breath-takingly tall, super rich, conveniently single and utterly besotted with each other . And I haven’t even mentioned their socially useful careers yet - Alisha helps women escape abusive marriages, while Aryan builds green homes by day, swings with Mumbai’s swish set by night and sweet talks them into financing his rural projects.
One gaudy Punjabi wedding straight out of a Karan Johar film- and several bouts of coyly described sex – later, Aryan and Alisha seem all set for the happily ever after. Except that Scrabble is promptly replaced by Squabble. Alisha is attacked by a client’s disgruntled ex, and Aryan chooses the opportunity to unleash his inner caveman. He yells. She weeps. He disappears. What is a smart , independent no-nonsense girl with a successful career , to do?
Drop everything and follow in his manly and troubled footsteps, according to Kothari. For despite Aryan revealing himself to be a chauvinist, alarmingly violent and contemptuous of the law (all in the name of love, cries Kothari), Alisha packs her bags and hares off to London with his Nani , where she helps her true love confront his troubled past, patch up with his estranged father and half-siblings, and realize just how badly the plot needs another gaudy Punjabi wedding - sorry, how much he loves her. KJo would approve. I don’t.
Wordfreak is a book that tries to be a lot of things, in a half hearted sort of way. The first half swings from ‘hot (well, tepid actually) Mills and Boon choli-ripper’ one second, to ‘ sensitive look at a modern day relationship’ the next; the second aims for full blown Bollywood melodrama. It also offers up randomly scattered observations about everything from gender equality and India’s spiraling divorce rate, to green design and differing skin tone ( “the quintessential difference between them – he was a North Indian Aryan, and she was a South Indian Dravidian.”) . The book does have some interesting characters – Diya, Uncle Sam, Alisha herself – but they soon disappear in this unreal world where everyone is thin, beautiful and loaded, and loyally served by a retinue of smiling servants. Also slaves to filmi stereotype - The North Indians are perennially overdressed , swinging at weddings or travelling abroad; South Indian Alisha seems to eat nothing at home besides idlis and dosas .
Wordfreak managed to annoy me with repeated references to Alisha’s “chocolate eyes”, as well as her various pet names – “Lee-sha” and “Sunshine”. There is also plenty of unintended humour, thanks to the prissy –or downright careless- wording in all those sex scenes. Sample – “He groaned, loving what she did to him..How was he supposed to moderate this?” Where are you, dude, at a high school debate? Or, “He aroused them… until they tittered (sic) ..on the edge of annihilation.” I tittered too.
And what is one to make of all the misplaced snippets of information throughout the plot? Why, in the midst of an emotional moment, do we need to know the details of Aryan’s post graduate studies? And why, after a deluge of ‘kuttis’ and ‘sahodarans’ – not to mention all those idlis – are we helpfully informed that Alisha speaks Malayalam, exactly two pages from the ending?
Your move, editor?