Vrushali Telang’s He Loves Me Not would have been just another chick-lit, with love, sex and heartbreak, but is saved from that inglorious fate by the extreme control exhibited by the author in not taking the ‘and they lived happily ever after’ track.
Jimmy Cooper and Mehroo Nasarwanji are childhood sweethearts. At least, in Mehroo’s mind. Having grown up together in Bombay’s Narielwala Mansion, the two get together for some quick no-nonsense sex, when their respective fathers meet to play badminton and reminisce about their respective spouses in the colony courtyard. The in-between hours are spent by plain Jane Mehroo in painting glasses and reading up ways to get her man more interested in her in the Pizzazz magazine, even as handsome, charming Jimmy blows up the money he takes from her on yet another salon pampering and perfecting his starry ways.
In comes bored and cheated housewife Ritu Nagda, and her set of uber rich, well-groomed friends, who use young men like Jimmy as their toy boys. He Loves Me Not is a tale of shy, introvert Mehroo, with a poor self esteem blossoming into a poised young woman who knows her own mind and doesn’t depend upon others to make her happy. It is the journey of Jimmy, learning to appreciate the worth of people who have given him unconditional love and support throughout and rising above ways to earn a quick buck into taking responsibility to earn a decent living. It is the tale of Ritu and others like her, who spend a lifetime seeking solace and peace in spiritual camps, without realising that true peace lies within.
Set in a Parsi milieu, what also helps Vrushali Telang’s second novel (her first book was Can’t Die for Size Zero) rise above the mediocre, is her flair with characters. Narielwala Mansion is peopled with a mixed-bag of characters – from Jimmy’s grandmother Bapaiji, the once strong matriarch now battling amnesia, to a lonely woman who invites herself to other people’s apartment so that she doesn’t have to have a meal alone and a funny-looking Pesi who becomes a known face in television commercials, Telang is never too caught up in following the journeys of her protagonists to not take a minute out to a give a glimpse into the lives of those surrounding them, both at Narielwala Mansion and outside. And it is these unsuspected revelations into the human psyche that is He Loves Me Not’s chief appeal.