You are Here
By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
You Are Here is The Compulsive Confessor (a much talked about blog in the Indian blogosphere), Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s debut novel. Reviews have labeled it chick-lit, mostly in the pejorative sense. I like well-written chick-lit (Bridget Jones Diary, The Devil Wears Prada to name a few). Or for that matter lad-lit (About a Boy, Man and Boy). And I liked You Are Here.
Madhavan writes pretty much the way she writes on her blog – first person personal, frank, uninhibited. You are Here chronicles the goings-on in the life of a 25 year old girl, Arshi, living the single life in Delhi, working at her first job. Her life is mostly dominated by her friends - her roommate Topsy, leading the double life most Indian girls are used to (the virginal salwar kameez-ed daughter to her conservative parents and the drinking partying fun girl to her friends and Muslim boyfriend Fardeen) and old school friend Deeksha (back from the US and getting married), her boyfriends (she is just out of a relationship with a lying-cheating one and hoping to get into another with a guitar-playing Adonis) and a caricature of a female boss she hates.
Arshi is possibly a prototype of a new kind of young Indian woman – casual about a lot of things taboo to a previous generation – smoking, drinking, sex; thinking of herself as cosmopolitan and global – a night club or bar is her most natural setting and John Mayer and Kajra Re both find equal resonance with her. Yet at a fundamental level, there is little modern about her. She obsesses about her relationships and comes across as very vulnerable and needy when it comes to men - “They never worry, these boys we love. They keep us on tenterhooks, just by their unconcern. We spend our days agonizing over them; at nights if we’re out together we try to make them jealous…but they rarely seem to care and at the end of the evening just a casual arm around our waists…can make us weak in our knees…. Neediness kills. Somewhere within our souls something dies every time we are needy and the boys we care so much about are dismissive of it.” – Greer or Beauvoir she is not. Also, there is a surprising lack of ambition career-wise. She is obviously intelligent and clever, yet her job at the PR firm is just a job to earn some money and her mother needs to prod her into making an attempt at a higher education. Like I said, the modernity is superficial…or at least different from how I would describe the word.
And yet I liked her - this superficially modern, needy unambitious young woman. Arshi’s vulnerabilities touch you. They are growing up pains that we have experienced – “The Future, if you know what I mean, was Here: The point in our lives we had looked towards when we were younger, half laughing as we said that some day this will be us, because we didn’t really believe we could be anything other than sixteen. We were so sure we’d never be ‘grown-up’, never be surprised by adulthood, that life wouldn’t sneak up on us, tap us on the shoulder and make us jump.” She describes thoughts and feelings we only sneakily admit to – “Being hot makes up for so many things in a man.” And she does write with wit and humour – “It’s always like this when you meet the people you’ve been sexually intimate with, I think: an instant porn movie inside your head.”
You are Here is a good fast funny quirky read. Good time-pass. Something the Kunal Basus and Raj Kamal Jhas of the world would do well to emulate.