Reading a second book by an author is much like watching a movie sequel, the reader's expectation is a greater barrier for the author to scale than merely a plot or a narrative. Namita Devidayal's first book "The Music Room", a memoir with a twist, featuring the life and times of her music teacher as the centerpiece was a wonderful debut for this journalist.
Like the earlier book, Aftertaste also has a central theme, not music but something more primal, food. Specifically, the heavenly mithai that the matriarch of the Todarmal family has converted into a thriving business. Mummyji, as the powerful old woman is known, is in the hospital, suffering from a stroke from which she is not expected to recover. The book chronicles the effect of this event on the condition of her four grown children and the impact her impending death has on the family dynamics.
The narration moves back and forth between the days prior to Mummyji's stroke in the lives of Rajan Papa, the oldest son, who is in a financial crunch which his doting mother is aware of but does nothing to alleviate; Suman - the once-beautiful elder daughter who preaches spirituality and detachment but is firmly entrenched in the material world, Saroj - the unfortunate, dark-skinned younger daughter struggling with her personal tragedy compounded by Mummyji's tyranny, and Sunny the youngest spoilt son who is juggling an extra-marital affair while dealing with business problems.
Through the lives of one family, the book shows the obsession of business families with money and its constant pursuit which becomes an end in itself even as the family ties chafe under the eternal pressure to maintain wealth and more importantly, social standing. Mummyji transforms the sagging fortunes of her husband by using her skill at making mithais, and as she traverses the traditional barriers, she picks up the family honor and the power that accompanies her actions. A strategy of bribing her kids either with food or money leaves a devastating trail in the dysfunctional family, spelling doom even for the next generation.
The story is fairly interesting but the author's use of similes and metaphors about food leave a bad taste. Instead of the gentle "show, not tell" style of the Music Room, there is judgment and justification for each character's action, an analysis of events from the author's point of view about the reason the characters behave the way they do. While a few loose ends are tied up at the end, it was heartening to see the surprise unresolved piece which is apparent but invisible to the ones who clamor for it.
I was reminded of a similar family saga "Home" by Manju Kapoor which focused on the lives of three generations of a business family that settles in Delhi after the partition. Both books read like polished versions of the family soaps more popular among TV viewers. Perhaps it is in this element that as serious reader I am disappointed.