There is no doubt that Subin Bhattarai’s Saya, the sequel to his bestselling Summer Love, will become an instant hit and the next big thing for Nepali youngsters, especially for those who rise and fall in the deluge of love or for those in pursuit of a special one. But that is to be expected, given the fame of the author, who inspires a massive craze amid his target audience, as exemplified in the massive crowd that gathered for the launch of his book.
Subin Bhattarai has undeniably created a space of his own, a strong enough foothold with his first collection of short stories, Kathaki Paatra, the novel Summer Love and now its sequel, Saya. Bhattarai displays a Chetan Bhagat-ish flamboyance in the way his narrative slithers, keeping readers within its grip, and is by and large, pretty successful in doing so. Another factor that might attract young readers is the simplicity of Bhattarais’ language and easily identifiable, not-so-larger-than-life characters. Saya’s presentation is appealing and one doesn’t have to make any great effort to comprehend the book.
However, very often, I have come across remarks that imply that we cannot expect too much from novels like these, which are targeted more towards the mass than the literary class. I did not have any such expectations. I would have been greatly disappointed if I had looked for literary value in something that is to be read extensively for pleasure purposes, nothing more and nothing less. But there are many questions that arise with this sequel. What was reason behind writing Saya at all? Is it purely to earn more moolah by selling a woman’s perspective, which hadn’t been delved into earlier in Summer Love? Or would it add more value to Summer Love by justifying Saya’s melodramatic exit from Atit’s life? Was this really necessary? Is it an effort to bring some paramount change in the gaze towards chick-lit? Or was it a demand from the great fan following? While Bhattarai’s fans must have been thrilled at the prospect of a sequel, the writing of the book itself seems to be a decision taken in a jiffy, certainly not a very good move as the writer is less successful in living up to the standard that Summer Love set with its open ending.
The book begins in a strikingly similar manner as Summer Love, with Saya, the protagonist, recounting her side of story to a certain écrivain in a café. The prologue and the first few chapters begin with profound insight on love and life. Saya and Atit, her lover from Summer Love, seem to have matured with the passing of down-in-the-dumps time in each other’s absence. The author appears to be at ease with exploring the grim side of lost love and the acceptance that comes through endurance, which is very charming. But what starts off as a promising beginning does not retain the same intensity for long. The characters fall flat with their mediocre portrayal. The ‘Sushmita’ episode is exhaustingly banal and the middle section of the novel becomes quite chimerical. It is strange that there is not even an iota of awkwardness in Atit and Saya’s reunion—they behave like teenagers in love for the first time despite having gone through so much upheaval and disappointment at the cost of each other in the previous book. Bhattarai has made an attempt to add some light moments, but the crisp repartees that Saya and Atit shared in Summer Love has been replaced with dialogue that is shoddier.
Right from the beginning, it is evident that the author is confined to a boundary, deliberately trying to justify the ending to the readers by adding bits and pieces. While there are pleasing moments, like Atit re-discovering his bond with the family and reminiscing about his childhood—something that was missing in Summer Love, there are also incidents that only seem to provide filler to the book, like the trip to Goa, which has no significance as such to the plot. Again, the entry of Sujan, the suave, sacrificing complement to the budding love triangle, is very much like a poor copy of a Karan Johar flick.
Furthermore, it is strange that the author and the editor both failed to discern the difference between words such as ‘ignorance’ and ‘indifference’ or ‘complex’ and ‘complexion’. I am unaware if language should be observed this carefully but the use of words such as ‘letiraheki’ or ‘laapata’ could easily have been replaced with better words like ‘paltiraheki’ or ‘dhalkiraheki’ and ‘bepattaa.’
The end to Saya is overly dramatic and very self-evident, unlike that of Summer Love. Perhaps giving it a slight twist would have made for a better ending. Though not outstanding, I loved Summer Love more and I still love Atit more as a protagonist; Saya as a girl caught in her own dilemma doesn’t carry the same appeal. She comes across as a rather selfish person, who uses not only Atit but also Sujan as per her own will and convenience.
Saya and the author both seem to be caught in the crux of modernity and convention. But after having reviewed the book in a way that could possibly be blasphemous to his fans, I wish Bhattarai had raised his own personal bar as a writer. Still, his language is beautiful and the reflective portions of the novel come across as delightful. Maybe in the future, a tearjerker would extract the best of his potentials.
This book review was first published on The Kathmandu Post found here.
Image source: Bookworm website