Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bala Takes the Plunge by Melvin Durai

Bala Takes the Plunge is frankly hilarious.

Bala Takes the Plunge

I dont often read humor. Its not something I pick up normally from book stores, its not often stuff I find funny, and its often just stuff I find really silly. However, this book is definitely different. The humor stems from careful and highly well-portrayed observation of people - and so many of the incidents, people and and dialogues are so familiar - and make me feel like 'I've totally seen this' - that I really enjoyed this book. Its a pretty short book, and I devoured it in less than a day after I got it, and it was one of the few books that has actually made me laugh out so loudly that other people around me started giving me odd looks and asked me what the hell I was reading. 

The book chronicles the adventures of Bala, an NRI, who has come back to India to look for a wife. Its definitely a topic with oodles of potential humor, and the author uses this potential to the maximum. In a light, conversational style, the author writes about India, marriage and Indian marriages with a simplicity and beauty that is both refreshing and fun. And its not just in his search for his bride. Everything, from the Rajnikant dialogues (so well done) and his dog's name (America) is funny and deeper than it seems. The character Bala himself really holds this up, because he, as the author himself says (in his interview with me here) 'never gives up' and that really, really makes him a lot of fun to read about. Bala is the sort of character who hooks you on and doesn't let you go easily. 

The style of the book itself really works for it, including the fact that its so short. Its light, conversational, witty and makes you feel like you have really read something interesting - qualities that I dont think would have lasted if the book had dragged on for another two hundred pages, though I do feel like I would've liked to know how the book's story continued. The ending, though I liked it, was rather abrupt and left me craving for more. 

Final thoughts: Witty, subtle, very funny - read it if you're in the mood for a good laugh. 

Other thoughts: Click here for a review of this book by another blogger (Manjulika Pramod) whom I respect very much, on a book review blog that I love.

(Financial disclosure: Book source was the author.) 

Interview: Melvin Durai

Today I have on my blog Melvin Durai, author of "Bala Takes the Plunge" which I've reviewed here. Welcome, Melvin. 

1. I'd like to begin this interview by asking you what kind of books are there on your bookshelf? What books are you reading right now? Which genre of books do you generally read? Which books do you re-read again and again?

Most of the books on our bookshelf are literary fiction, about a third by South Asian authors. My wife, Malathi, is a voracious reader and sets a good example for me. (Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry and Vikram Seth are gods in our reading universe!) I’m currently reading “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” by Dave Eggers and “The Blaft anthology of Tamil pulp fiction,” which we picked up during our recent trip to India. I read literary fiction mostly, but occasionally dip into popular fiction like Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective Agency series. I tend not to re-read books, but do re-read short stories. Among my favorites are the Sherlock Holmes stories, which I first read as a schoolboy and still love as an adult (yes, I did read your lukewarm review of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”!).

2. Tell us something about your work before "BalaTakes the Plunge"?

I’ve done a lot of newspaper journalism, including some feature writing that I really enjoyed. I’ve also written a regular humor column for about 15 years. As for fiction, I’ve worked on several short stories, one of which was published in an American literary magazine and another that will appear in the upcoming issue of Kindle Magazine in India.

3. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write "Bala Takes the Plunge"?

I started dreaming of becoming a writer when I was in high school. I enjoyed writing in school – it came easy to me – but it took me a long time to become a “writer.” I got into writing full-time after earning a master’s degree in journalism from Towson University in Maryland and landing a job at a small newspaper in Pennsylvania. (Before that, I had attempted to fulfill my mother’s dream for me – to become a doctor.) “Bala Takes the Plunge” was inspired largely by my own matrimonial search about a decade ago. I wrote humor columns about the experience and realized that there was a lot of potential for humor in the way many Indians find their mates.

4. What kind of people do you think this book will reach out to?

Anyone who shares my sense of humor will probably enjoy the book. If you don’t appreciate the humor, then you probably won’t like the book.

5. What is your favourite thing about books and reading? How have books made an impact on your life?

Books and reading in general can give you insights/perspectives  you wouldn’t
get in your everyday life. Books have made me more empathetic, more attuned to
the viewpoints of others. Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance”, for example, took
me right into the world of the poor and oppressed, showing me vividly what they
have to endure. (That’s a book I need to re-read!)

6. Quick take. Answer the following with the first words/phrase that comes toyour mind, in five words or less:

- Marriage – roller coaster ride

- Life – full of challenges, surprises

- India – never boring

- Bala (the character) – keeps trying

- Books – not enough shelf space

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