You know what they say about not judging a book by it’s cover? Add another one to it – don’t judge an author by the author blurb. Aditya Mukherjee may be yet another IIM graduate to have penned a novel, but unlike most of them who write about college life in particularly bad English, Boomtown is a breath of fresh air.
JJ, son of a rich businessman, meets Jaaved, the grandson of legendary Old Delhi chef Khan Mian. Jaaved is passionate about cooking, but unlike his grandfather, who refuses to change his family recipes in any way, he enjoys experimenting with new ingredients. Like using a dash of vanilla essence in a traditional meat curry “to give it a bit more balance.” When JJ tastes his food, he has a brainwave – setting up a chain of fusion restaurants spinning new twists on traditional recipes.
He ropes in Roy, his engineering buddy who has just been laid off, and Sheetal, a single mother and manager at a five-star hotel. Boosted by a glorious review from celebrated chef Romesh Ghosh, “the three friends travel from the crumbling Mughlai kitchens of Chandni Chowk to the trendy upmarket eateries of Gurgaon, from the corporate corridors of venture capitalists to the crummy offices of property brokers.”
Mukherjee has captured the feel of the places – Bangalore, Old Delhi, Gurgaon – beautifully. Like this vignette of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi:
The grand Jama Masjid plaza was teeming with people, it’s red sandstone skin invisible under the folds of humanity. Vaulted halls and paneled corridors echoed with calls of the pious and chattering of the rest. The evening namaz had just ended. Uncles and grand-uncles sat on the steps sharing stories of their youth…
His characters are finely drawn, from the eccentric JJ to the mousy Roy and his stolid, old-fashioned, middle class parents; and feisty yet vulnerable Sheetal. Jaaved, especially, as the young Old Delhi boy who is passionate about food and wise beyond his years, is a lovable fellow. Deeply thoughtful, he’s the glue that binds the friends together as their plans seemingly unravel. And his innate wisdom just shines off the page. My personal favorite is when he talks about how cities divide up the sky.
There are those who live in towers and travel in planes, those who have good cars and use flyovers. And there are those who spend their lives at the bottom. They have very little sky.
The dialogues are believable – a very important point for any intelligent reader that particularly hit me when I read the awful dialogues in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – and witty. Like this one between JJ and Roy, which takes place on the plane when JJ falls asleep almost as soon as it takes off:
“Motion makes me sleepy,” he’d yawned.
“The girls must love that,” Roy had replied acidly.
The one small hitch I noticed was in the timing of certain events – they didn’t seem to match up at one or two places. For example, when they have to meet Romesh for the first time, JJ calls up Roy at 10 minutes to 8:00 am to say he got a confirmation of the meeting 10 minutes ago. But Jaaved said he got up at 6 in the morning to make food for a presentation that wasn’t confirmed until around 7:45 am. However, that’s a very minor point, in my opinion, in what is otherwise an excellent novel.