Roswitha Joshi’s plots juxtapose the Indian and Western attitudes and relationships between characters of these two cultures, they certainly do not lack in some quite unique and humorous situations. Having reviewed five of her earlier works-two novels, Once More and Indian Dreams and three collections of short stories-On the Rocks and Other Stories, Life is Peculiar and Fool’s Paradise, I must say that with her latest novel, Trapped in Want and Wonder, while she yet again keeps her readers well entertained, it is with the added dimension of intrigue and bits of risque humour.
Examples: how a Western lady in India requiring to be administered an injection in the thigh must never raise her skirt but like Indian ladies wearing sarees, must lower it from the waist... Another hilarious example is how a ‘paan’ chewer spitting out betel-nut juice accumulated in his mouth is mistaken for a serious blood-coughing patient.
Dora, a German journalist, accepts her Indian colleague Dev’s marriage proposal after he is finally feels free to do so, or rather, is itching to. Dora shifts to Delhi, where, while Dev is awaiting his divorce, they stay in a place only her fat salary makes possible. While this irks Dev, Dora anyway, decides to keep house under Indian conditions and employs a servant, Amit, whose conduct soon arouses her suspicion. It does not help Dora that of the many problems she has in dealing with Amit, she is flabbergasted about not being able to read his face which she describes as “a Halloween mask, perpetually grinning, no genuine smile, no moving facial muscles, not even a nervous tick, nothing. And the way he slithers around like...”
While Dora is away, a Dr Som offers Dev a job that would give him name, fame and substantial perquisites. Dev agrees to become a TV anchor only when Som promises to get his divorce through.
Soon after their marriage, both start hearing odd noises. Fearing mischief on Amit’s part, Dora wants to investigate. Dev, however, tells her to mind her own business and, unwittingly, sets the stage for a drama they never wanted to act in.
After his maiden show about the acclaimed carpet exporter Agarwal, Dev becomes ‘famous’, indeed. Pampered out of his wits by the wily tycoon, he presents him as paragon of industry and kindness, while a rival channel exposes him as child abuser. When Dev gets the jitters about his career. Som assures him that objectivity and integrity do not matter any more. Social issues are mere fig leaves. The viewers want entertainment and scandals are good for business-TRPs and all that.
Dora, meanwhile, writes stories about her life in India, wondering why she is paid so much. She comes to know when the owner of her media group arrives in Delhi with a plan to invest in hotels. Her role would be to scout for locations and then publicize the works in progress. Dora is delighted. Dev’s career too gets a boost when his hard hitting colleague Hitesh-aka Hitty the Shitty, collapses in front of the camera and he takes over his show. Unlike his bulldozing predecessor, Dev tries to build up personalities of repute as role models.
Yet, rival channels continue to expose some of his ‘heroes’ as frauds. This robs him of his peace of mind, as he suspects a systematic attempt to destroy the pillars of society, individually and collectively. While Dev ponders the issue, Som asks him to meet the founder of a home for destitute children as potential candidate for his show. Impressed by this founder Mehra’s personality, Dev requests Dora to investigate whether the ground reality justifies his tall claims.
Dora not only finds them justified, but also remembers that she had met Mehra before under different but decent circumstances, - unlike Kim, a female employee, whom she once evicted from her bedroom.
Whatever, based on Dora’s report, Dev agrees to interview Mehra and commissions as introduction a short film on his work. Mehra turns out to be a ‘show stopper’ and prodded by Dev, viewers donate to his project with unheard of generosity. Dev is sure to have made TV history. Yet, instead of the expected tributes, he faces tribulations that leave him shell-shocked and unable to comprehend why his life has turned from fairytale into nightmare.
And then he has a dream... I must not break the suspense but recommend that the not very expensive book should be bought and enjoyed for all the delightful twists in the tale and to the English language that the author provides and all of Dev’s ever ready and uninhibited attempts at amour to diffuse many tense situations.