If there was ever a Bollywood film written as a YA novel, Red Turban, White Horse would be it. There’s an attractive (and socially-approved thin) heroine, a smouldering hero, a romance along with a regulation misunderstanding, a dead mother and the resultant angst, and, of course, a wedding. The only things missing are the song-and-dance sequences.

Padmini ‘Mini’ Kapoor is by all accounts a regular American teenager, albeit of Indian descent. But when her older sister Yashasvini, Vinnie for short, decides to get married, Mini must rise to the occasion to throw her a ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’. In the US. With their mother dead, their father clueless (though well-meaning, if that counts), and no female relatives around, it falls to Mini to be the sole wedding planner. The other complication is that she has only two months to plan the perfect wedding because the fledgling medical careers of Vinnie and her boyfriend don’t give them much of a choice of dates. Oh, and the budget is tight, very tight.

Of course, now that she’s super-busy and has no time to have a life, fate dumps the smoking-hot Vir right into Mini’s lap. Vir ticks all the right boxes – his mother is a dean at the local college, he has a famous father (it’s set up as a big reveal in the story, but you’d have to be comatose not to see it coming), he’s tall, dark and handsome, and most importantly, he’s of Indian origin too. Yet, like every teenage love story ever told, he has a mysterious past that soon sweeps Mini up in its wake even as she gathers up her resources and dives headlong into the planning. It’s not easy being a seventeen-year-old wedding planner, but everywhere she turns, there are helpful Indians with all the right connections to get her what she needs. Of course, there is a happy ending – and that’s no spoiler.

While there isn’t much of a plot going, Nandini Bajpai has a laidback, friendly style of writing. She pulls off the voice of the protagonist perfectly, who sounds just like any other American teenager. Mini also oozes the easy confidence of the young as she tries on boots that are a bit too big for her. This makes her an endearing narrator, despite the fact that planning a wedding isn’t all that conducive to a nail-biting storyline.

This, then, brings us to the biggest let-down of Red Turban, White Horse – that there’s no conflict in the story, no suspense, actually no plot at all; just Mini ticking off a list as she races against the calendar. As a teenager, I had no interest in weddings apart from coming up with inventive excuses to get out of them. Thus, it doesn’t seem very plausible that a young adult reader will be enthralled by who does the decorations, which caterer will be better, how many coconuts and packets of kumkum are required for the ceremony, or even if Hurricane Irene will rip apart the wedding tent.

The romance too is predictable and bereft of any excitement. A silly misunderstanding that could have been solved by a conversation – though, to be fair, when do teens behave reasonably? – temporarily throws a spanner in the works, but everything works out in the end. Vir personifies every teenage girl’s imaginary perfect boyfriend, and thus has as much personality as a cardboard cut-out.

Oh, and all the Indians in the US seem to know each other! Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, despite their seemingly middle-class existence, the Kapoors’ social circle, directly and indirectly, reads like a veritable who’s who of high society – from automobile magnates to world-renowned fashion designers to Bollywood starlets. However, the coincidences start to wear a little thin after a while. Finally, the book also loses serious points for its fat-shaming. Thinness and being a size-zero are equated with health and fitness, a dangerous, erroneous message, one that has been responsible for many teenage girls (and adult women) having body image problems.

To be fair, Red Turban, White Horse isn’t a bad book. The lucid narration makes it very easy to read, and it is a perfect example of how telling a story well can be more important than the story itself.

By Payal Dhar

Author: Nandini Bajpai
300 pages
Rs 350.00
ISBN: 978-9351030034
Scholastic, 2013
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Young Adult
Age-group: 13+

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