The titular Polite Society of Mahesh Rao’s darkly funny new novel, is Lutyen’s Delhi with Prithviraj road at the centre and apex of its ambitions. ‘Polite’ is a subjective term though, and no one knows it better than those on the fringes, trying to break into the seemingly impenetrable cliques, who play at being composed entirely of ‘old money’ and governed by arcane rules.
Despite maintain the happy pretense of a society comprised of only the pinnacle of sophistication, polite society is actually quite a mixed bag. There are the chosen ones, born to both manner inhabit the world with the assurance of being born to it, the ones whose obscene wealth and lavish spending of it allow them a place in it despite the derision at their vulgarity, the ones who no longer have the wealth to inhabit it comfortably-but do so any way with a mixture of their connections and personal savoir-faire. And finally there are the ones in purgatory, looking to break into the charmed circle but never quite having the confidence to be comfortable in it.
The people you need to know to climb your way into Polite Society via Prithviraj Road.
“She considered public-service commitments important to her personal growth and would drop into Dr Bhatia’s hospital whenever she had commitment-free weekday that took her in that direction. No one who favoured their privacy was likely to object when they discovered she was Dileep Khurana’s daughter.”
“Dileep had a terror of obscurity and irrelevance, and the way he decided to distinguish himself by his youthfulness and vitality…He employed the services of a nutritionist who had worked with several stars of The Bold and the Beautiful. He went sandboarding in Peru and more reluctantly, Dubai.”
“Over time, he taught himself their ways. He talked about garden parties and private members’ clubs he hadn’t been to. It was easy these days: everywhere was photographed and reviewed. He learnt the easy manner of the young men he sought out. He googled assiduously and scrutinized connections on social media.”
“As expected, she had matured into a formidable beauty, with an elegant neck, unblemished skin, and the mouth of a vamp. Her first newspaper column was called ‘Dirty laundry’ and she dictated it to a woman called Rose who would come to her houses every Tuesday afternoon. A few months later, Nina remarried, changing her surname and the name of her column. It became ‘Nina Varkey’s Grapevine.’”
“In some ways, Ania’s initial interest in Dimple’s affairs could be placed on the same spectrum of charitable instincts as the one that led her to the animal shelter. When Dimple stared in confusion out of her large brown eyes Ania’s heart gave a little flip. But over time she had become genuinely fond of Dimple and didn’t see why thr girl shouldn’t reap the benefits of a superlative Delhi social life just because of her unfortunate beginnings.”
“The Khurana house had gradually anesthetized her, diminishing any desire for an independent life. With each passing year her face accommodated more of her fathers handsomeness, her eyelids becoming heavier, the jaw sitting a little more squarely. She quit her job as a museum curator and tired of her clamorous friends, Instead there were plump cushions, a bountiful supply of true crime paperbacks and a swirl of cream in the dishes that came up to her on a little trolley.”
“The same jacket day after day, the satchel with a broken zipper, the fraying above the shirt pocket, she was convinced it was all an affectation, a way of indicating to the world that their owner concerned himself only with matters of sublime worth and not mere flummeries. They had practically grown up in each others houses and she could almost predict his every gesture.”
“She presented a glassy indifference to anythinh Ania had to offer. She volunteetred nothing, disclosed nothing. Attempts to draw her out or share a confidence were futile. People were ‘sweet’ or ‘nice’, places were ‘great’ and a few times she had used the word ‘simpatico’. Her gaze was cool and hard.”
Keenly observed, sharply plotted and full of wit and brio, Polite Society reimagines Jane Austen’s Emma in contemporary Delhi to portray a society whose polished surface often reveals far more than is intended. For more posts like this, follow Penguin India on Facebook!