By Vikas Datta
Title: All Aboard; Author: Kiran Manral; Publisher: Penguin India ; Pages:224 ; Price:Rs.250
We may already know the destination and outcome of our journey but our interest is kept engaged by the thrill of what we may find on the voyage. It is the same for the stories we read – we know the protagonist will rarely be unsuccessful in accomplishing the mission/solving the mystery/defeating the villain/saving the world or whatever the end goal is but the fun is in the details. Romance is no different – true love will succeed but how is what makes for its allure.
It is down this road Kiran Manral takes us in her third book but imposing her own inventiveness on the landscape, which is a mix of features familiar and unexpected.
The plot appears simple. Jilted – via e-mail – by her long-time boyfriend days before their marriage, Rhea Khanna is desperate for a change of scene. This would have been difficult for the middle-class, working girl who has spent most of her savings on the wedding preparations, but her aunt, a retired school headmistress, invites her to accompany her on a Mediterranean cruise.
The problem is when they run into Kamal Shahani, an affluent entrepreneur, who turns out to be her aunt’s former student, and is consequently very solicitous of her and Rhea – who finds the proximity of the gorgeous hunk leaves her weak-kneed. It is obvious that a romance will develop, but it is also obvious that there will be obstacles.
And this is where Manral, a journalist-turned-blogger-cum author, displays her skills. First, the cruise setting ensures that there will be a definitive time frame for the issue to be decided (so impatient readers need not fret!) as well as a range of characters and exotic destinations (Venice, Naples) can be factored it to flesh out the story without much problem.
There are the stock elements – old flames, relatives counselling prudence and parents expecting obedience, misunderstandings and misconceptions, self-doubts and the works which prove the course of true love never runs smooth, but for novelty, there is a drug smuggling racket to add some sparks.
Contributing to the book’s strengths is a sparkling, wittily subversive (from the feminist perspective that is) element in descriptions and dialogue and the deft characterisation – especially of the women who certainly are no-pushovers despite the travails (jilted, divorced with young children) but still displaying a refreshing resilience in their lives.
Rhea is sometimes vulnerable but that is due to circumstances, not to mention it helping to make her an adequate foil to the near perfect hero. Such characters have become a Manral trademark – be it housewife Kanan ‘Kay’ Mehra forced into investigating a homicide in her debut “The Reluctant Detective” (2012) or career woman Rayna De battling a stagnant job, an unspeakable boss, the terrible 30s and a non-existent love life (until an unapproachable and oblivious prospect joins the office) in “Once Upon A Crush” (2014).
“All Abroad” cannot be airily dismissed as “chick-lit” – an ungracious term which we never apply to the Bollywood films we lap up, but one, which in no case, should be used to belittle the author efforts. There can be bad chick-lits as there can be bad thrillers or mysteries, but that cannot condemn the entire genre. If you have never indulged, you couldn’t do worse that start with this one.