The words ‘Lok Sabha’ and ‘sexy’ are not often found together. But Anuja Chauhan manages to marrying the two in a rollicking rom-com complete with a cast of eccentric characters, a thwarted khaap panchayat honour-not-quite-killing, a randy Labrador called Ponky, backhanders, double-dealing and political skullduggery, and a smattering of killer one-liners at least one of which had me snort out chai through my nose.
Our heroine, Sarojini Pande, and the author herself score a nearly perfect ten in terms of their biometrical match. Pande is a bright young thing in advertising: so is her creator. Chauhan married into a political dynasty (the Alvas), Pande was born into one. And although it’s highly unlikely that Anuja Chauhan will stand for election – she seems to be having far too much fun, and enjoying far too much success as a bestselling author – Sarojini is pressganged by her wily grandmother into becoming the youngest candidate ever.
This is how the Sarojini describes her grandmother’s entry into politics on the death of her freedom-fighter husband: “Once he and all his ‘batch’, so to speak, swag sidhaaroed for their heavenly abode, Amma moved in to take over his mantle with gusto,” penning a political autobiography with the chai-snort-worthy title Shaadhi, Khaadi aur Azaadi. Amma is a wonderfully comic creation with an idiosyncratic way of speaking, more prejudices that you can shake a stick at and a fair few skeletons in her Godrej almirah. She berates her granddaughter for her dress sense on their way to attend a wedding:
“ ‘Ij this any way to wear a sari? One choochi in and one choochi out! Drape the pallu higher, Sarojini.’
‘This is the style, Amma,’ I said, rolling my eyes. ‘If I drape it over both my breasts I’ll look like the Dalai Lama. Besides, I’m wearing a blouse, aren’t I?’
‘We would not call that thing a blouj,’ she grumbled. ‘It doej not match your sari colour, and the neck is so deep, if you bend even a little bit, your partition will sow.’”
Much of the humour in this very funny book relies on the reader recognizing the real life situations, people and parties that the story involves. The disguises are tissue-thin – the ‘IJP’ for the BJP, the ‘Pragati Party’ for Congress, and so on, to the point where Chauhan more or less gives up pretending when a Bollywood hunk called ‘Salmon Khan’ shows up for a bit of cheap electioneering.
As for the hero – Zain Altaf Khan is everything a hero should be, dangerous and desirable in equal measure. In the words of his opponent – or is she? – “He was nothing but a snake, a devastatingly hot, rough velvet-voice snake with vulnerable dark eyes, a wicked sense of humour, and gentle, gentle hands…” The ‘will they/won’t they’ flip-flop is standard Mills and Boon fare, leaving very little room for doubt that, in the end, they most certainly will. Battle for Bittora is a worthy successor to Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor. The only thing left to decide is whether Salman gets to play Zain in the movie.