Anjana Basu – LOVE IS WHAT HAPPENS: Reading Amitabh Pandey’s “Love in Lutyens’ Delhi”

Lutyens’ Delhi that solid colonnaded place where the camels march over Raisina Hill in the Beating the Retreat ceremony every January. Amitabh Pandey sets his novel strongly against the bureaucracy who occupy this privileged section of Delhi, the offices, the homes that adjoin it and the corridors of power. Not that the story really goes in that direction. What it actually highlights is the love aspect. It tells the love stories of three women, Gayatri, Abha and Akitri, Akku, a mother, aunt and their young ward. Akitri is actively involved in a relationship with a boy she’s known from kindergarten and Pandey throws in some steamy snogging sessions and more. Gayatri, Akriti’s mother is widowed and stoical in the face of her daughter and sister’s overactive hormones.

Abha, a high-powered editor for a noted publication has been caught in a London park on a summer night and on various other occasions. She, however, is now madly in love with a married man, wondering what she and he did ere they loved with a touch of Elizabethan madness which leads the reader to expect a witty romp.  Instead comes a tale of  young hormones and the heart-breaking realisation that what we expect from life doesn’t actually work out.

Pandey deftly inhabits the characters of the women in the book – in fact it comes as rather a surprise to realise that a man tells the story. He deals with subjects like a girl’s first menstruation and how her mother and aunt tackle it and how Akku expects her bestie, who just happens to be a boy, Sanju, to deal with it. Along the way Gayatri, who is a successful physician, gets tired of mourning her husband and takes up with his colleague Vishwanathan who has always been there for her, patiently waiting in the wings. Gayatri’s of course, is the least spectacular of the romances though hers is the issue of sexual activation after years of celibacy.

Love in Lutyens’ Delhi covers the age and generational differences between the women and how that affects their attitudes towards romance and relationships. Gayatri is traditional, Abha modern and Akriti millennial. They are also, incidentally Gujarati whereas the men come from other communities and faiths, something that testifies to the women’s open-mindedness.

Sanjay, the only man dealt with in detail, is the one who comes from a family of bureaucrats and fits fairly and squarely into the Lutyens’ Delhi of the foreword. He is less independent when compared to Akriti who leads their relationship down the years and he is the one who suffers because his family is too busy to listen to his problems. The one person who could have listened, his Nana, is no longer in the world to hear him so he composes imaginary letters in his head that become part of the story. The last part in fact threatens to become epistolary as Akku and Sanju are separated by continents and their years of bonding is under threat.

The author does cover three years in a few pages without going into detail, something that the story perhaps asks for as Akriti’s awakening to maturity is rather rushed through. Love in Lutyens’ Delhi ends happily, though rather breathlessly but makes for a cheerful on flight read with nothing demanded from the reader.

Love in Lutyens’ Delhi
Amitabh Pandey
Pan Macmillan India
INR 199/

Review – Anjana Basu
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