Title: The Bitter Pill Social Club
Author: Rohan Dahiya
Pages: 308; Price: Rs 399
When this book came my way, I was expecting an insider’s view of Delhi’s socialite life – an honest one with some interesting commentary, some revelations and some semblance of reality. I must admit I was largely disappointed with what I read. It is one thing to be satirical and reflective of the dark side of human nature, but this book gave off the ‘celebrating the perverse’ vibe, which was a rather strong put-off.
The book takes us through the lives of the Kochhar family with its disparate characters, some of whom I found quite interesting and would have enjoyed reading about – each one projecting their insecurities on those around through them through their neurotic behaviour. And while I understand that people can and do to some extent behave along these lines, I found the author’s portrayal to be a bit extreme and jarring. I’m all for calling attention to and ridiculing unhealthy and bordering on unnatural states of conduct, showing how too much wealth coupled with a false sense of self-importance, inflated egos, and disregard for others can lead to destructive lifestyles. My issue is that Rohan Dahila’s book has an undertone of applauding the convoluted bravado of being broken and hollow inside.
I believe books should, in some form, show us a version of light at the end of the tunnel, even if it takes us through immense pain at times, or through uncomfortable emotions. While Rohan definitely creates an atmosphere of discomfort, I find missing in this writing the message of sorts that I would have liked to see in. And the fact that none of the characters redeem themselves in any form was unsatisfying as well. In every book that I open I hope to find a nugget of something special that makes me want to be better, to learn a lesson, or stir up forgotten and hidden emotions in my being. When I read The Bitter Pill Social Club the only emotion I felt was a rather unfortunate tinge of ickiness and sadness at a wasted storytelling opportunity. It’s rare that I find any book a waste of time; at most the subject matter may not appeal to me, but this novel was a colossal letdown.
The story navigates a lot of mindless, heartless and harsh attitude and behaviour between family members and friends that feels unrealistic and like a stretch of any plausible truth. Even in fiction, the story must stay reflective of human tendencies. Ugly fist fights and venom-filled hatred spewed between family members and then almost immediately moving into the pretence of loving and happy wedding scenes was indigestible and just made me nauseous. Another fact that really irked me was the complete disregard for leading the reader into a change of point of view resulting in moments of immense confusion. There are numerous jumps between which character’s story is being narrated with no warning or context. I wish the author had paid more attention to this very crucial aspect of the story arc.