Author and screenplay writer, Parinda Joshi, whose last book ‘Made in China’ (HarperCollins India) was made into a motion picture starring Rajkumar Rao last year, is out with her fourth novel on a hilariously dysfunctional family drama with lopsided gender dynamics called ‘A House full of Men’ (HarperCollins India).
Her lead in the new book, Kritidhara (Kittu) Pant is a travel writer based in Lucknow, who hasn’t traveled in the last 10 years!
Kittu Pant lives with a family full of unrestrained men! Starting from the top of the pecking order is the patriarch of the Pant family, Hridaynath Brahma Pant aka High BP, a retired banker who cannot share the sky with his son without arguing. Next in order is Ravishing Pant or Ravi Pant, Prince Charles of the Pant family and a distinguished journalist. There’s Shamik Pant, the insufferable twin and an alpha male and the sweet, shy, and effeminate twin number 2, Nishant Pant, who’s also a theatre actor. Bark Twain, a haughty pup and the poster boy for the male privilege is deeply and unapologetically sexist and doesn’t seem Kittu worthy of eye contact. Rumor has it that he has a literary bent. Last but not the least, there’s P.G. Wodehouse, her 3 a.m. friend who occasionally dishes our quirky advice to make her smile.
Twenty-five-year-old Kittu has left Lucknow only on two occasions in her life. The first trip involved the last rites of her grandmother. The second trip involved a wedding, thankfully, but she returned home to her mother’s funeral. It wasn’t your fault, they told her. She’s not so sure about it. Worse still, she’s not forgiven her mother for leaving her alone in a house full of men.
Is there anyone at home she can share her deepest thoughts with? Like the gory details of the monthly episode of the ‘Red Russian River’? Yikes. Examine why half of her strands curl more than the others? No. Speculate why she can’t fit into her jeans on Wednesdays? Huh? Lend an ear to her endless relationship issues, manic obsessions, and simple aspirations? Please. Understand that she doesn’t mean everything she says and means a lot of what she doesn’t say? Crazy much? To just let her be? Smile! To turn off all the lights at night? Do you consider that work? To consider her a financially contributing member of the family? Uh, no, you’re a girl!
A House Full of Men is a novel about false starts and failed attempts, messy love, refreshing familial bonds, and the importance of being understood…told with bucketfuls of humor.
Below is an excerpt from the book:
I have the worst luck with epiphanies, Kittu thought uncharitably. Each time she had had one, it had crushed her with its overwhelming, undeniable truth; a truth that had evaded her all this time.
She was flipping through some travel magazines one uninspired afternoon in her travel-themed office in the Hazratganj area of Lucknow. That’s when the life-changing quiz drew her in. Mindlessly, she signed herself up for the ride, answering each question with the utmost sincerity, neatly circling the relevant multiple-choice answer. She was nothing if not honest, while taking random quizzes, that is.
If the count of your ‘yes’s is between …
She quickly counted her ‘yes’s as if her life depended upon it. The grand total was fifteen. This better make me win a trip to Bali or some exotic island where I’ll lay serenely in infinity pools watching the hotel staff feed fresh papaya slices to the birds, the enticing thought ran through her mind. She rubbed her palms together in anticipation of the grand reveal and went back to searching the answer group for fifteen yes’s. And there it was.
If the count of your ‘yes’s is between twelve and fifteen, we’re sorry to say that you are a church mouse. Don’t hate us;)
A what? She drew in a sharp breath and read it again. A church mouse? What on earth is a church mouse?! she mouthed, the tension between her eyebrows palpable.
Now she wasn’t really a quiz person. Occasionally, she would get sucked into one, and after much racking of the mind and fessing up more than she cared to, she was usually left underwhelmed. She had little faith in the logic behind the algorithms the quiz people used. Who were these people who put together quizzes in these magazines anyway? she’d muse. Psychologists? Sociologists? Or perhaps a bunch of interns, snacking on heart-shaped cookies and coloured carbonated drinks, frequently glossing their lips and pouting into the camera, giggling and nudging each other while putting together senseless questions and equally irrational answers. Did they ever stop to think how these quizzes could irreparably destroy a reader’s sense of self-worth? Stop blowing it out of proportion, a voice said in her head. Okay, she muttered to no one in particular.
A label whose meaning she didn’t understand had just been ruthlessly thrust upon her. She owed it to herself to get to the bottom of this. And so she set out on that perilous path of seeking the truth online.
A church mouse is a meek individual who attends church regularly and frequently.
That was odd. She was religious and went to the temple occasionally, but this couldn’t possibly be relevant coming from a travel magazine. She continued probing, her heart racing.
The proverbial church mouse is an individual whose entire life is spent in one location. This individual lives and dies in the same location without any exposure to the world outside their habitat.
She gasped. Countless aspirations shattered inside her.
That moment came alive, again, for the zillionth time. She in a cheery yellow salwar-kameez standing at the gate of her house, her bags full of wedding goodies slipping from her hands. They taking her mother away, her body tied firmly with coir rope to a bamboo frame and draped with white sheets, a tulsi garland carefully outlining her face through the cotton. The wailing, the chanting, the insurmountable pain. There was a reason she hadn’t left the city since then.
There is also a variation of this proverb: quiet as a church mouse. That refers to someone who is very quiet, as one would presumably be in a church. Someone seen but not heard.
Just like that, a magazine had punched her in the gut, twice, in less than thirty seconds.
‘You don’t know anything about me,’ she said, grabbing the magazine in a fit of fury, and pushing her chair backwards, she was about to toss it in the dustbin under her desk when the epiphany hit her. Impressionable was not the first thing people said about her, but that verdict was—she couldn’t even get herself to acknowledge it—painfully accurate. She was indeed a church mouse.
Her name was Kittu, short for Kritidhara. Kritidhara Pant. Her late grandmother had lovingly named her that, she was told, for it meant bearer of fame. The only fame that name had brought her was countless hours of teasing all through her school years. She had tremendous stage fright and froze each time it was her turn to read or enact something in front of her class; the kids told her she had two names, Kriti and Dhara, but didn’t even have courage enough for one person.
Kittu was born in Lucknow in a close-knit family of over-achievers on her father’s side. Her mother’s lineage was a bit more content with the status quo for it was full of people who napped thrice a day and occasionally tended to their apple orchards in Bareilly. Laid-back was not a term that did justice to their routine. Which is why all the women in her mother’s family had skin like apples; rosy, shiny and flawless, and instead of dark under-eye patches, they had a perpetual peachy glow. One would presume she would have inherited that. No apple-skin luck for Kittu. More like date-skin, minus the crinkles. She detested napping.
Her maternal grandmother’s death was evidently her only chance to see a city other than the one where she had spent all her life, Lucknow. Well, there was the other time too when her cousin had married a girl from Nainital. The trip had ended tragically, snatching away her heartbeat. She had lost everything to that wretched moment; the womb that had created and crafted her, the hand that had fed her soul, the heart that had comforted her with the warmth of a thousand blankets. All of a sudden life had become fleeting and vulnerable and meaningless. For a while nothing had seemed real, numbness her constant companion. Time had not healed her scars; instead, she had crammed those painful images in a sturdy metal trunk with the biggest lock her mind could imagine and buried it deep into the abyss of the earth. Kittu never acknowledged that memory or let it linger for more than a breath if it somehow hoisted itself to the forefront of her thoughts. It had worked for her thus far.
Back to travel. No one in her family travelled. Her friends, extended family, college, job, favourite picnic spots, preferred restaurants, events, non-events, even her gods were all confined to Lucknow. ‘We have everything we need here, why go elsewhere?’ she was told if she brought up attending a camp or going on vacation with a friend. This was long before her mother’s passing. Not much had changed since then. She had graduated from Babasaheb Ambedkar University with a degree in journalism and had been working for a travel magazine ever since. Her employment offer letter was dated about four years back.
The proverbial church mouse is an individual whose entire life is spent in one location.
The words rang true in her mind and reverberated through her entire body, just like the ‘Om’ sound. But it had none of the calming effects of Om. It was more like a dreary Hindi soap opera sound effect, repetitive and jarring. Mouse? Really?
Most of her grown-up life had been overwhelmingly subdued, if you can call living with five adult men (a brash male dog included) that. Actually, six adult men if one included the framed poster in her room of a smiling P.G. Wodehouse with a cigar clenched between his teeth, dressed in a rounded collar with a suit and tie. She would toss questions at Wodehouse whenever she felt lonely. Most times he responded with something funny or quirky like, you just need a new hobby; try flossing maybe? Sometimes he said life-altering stuff. Other times it was banal. It made her laugh anyway.