When Karan Mahjan’s debut novel, Family Planning turned up on our desks one week, and again between our hands at Harper Perennial’s blogger party at KGB B
ar the next, our interest couldn’t help but be piqued. So we broke down, read the synopsis on the back cover, and immediately got sucked in.
We had to discover how (and WHY?) the Ahuja family manages to consist of no less than 13 children. Look out Jon and Kate Plus 8 — you’ve got nothing on this family.
After the jump check out the first page with us and find out whether or not we keep reading.
Chapter 1 Question Hour
Obviously, Mr. Ahuja — Minister of Urban Development — couldn’t tell his son that he was only attracted to Mrs. Ahuja when she was pregnant. That he liked the smooth, alien bulge of her stomach or the tripled heartbeat when they made love, silently, shifting over each other. That the faint fetal heartbeat ran under the speeding pulses of man and wife, calming him, holding him back from instant climax.
Or even more fantastically, how, at times, he could imagine the unborn eyes of the fetus watching him, pleading for another sibling — begging, sobbing, moaning through the parched throat of his wife…
It was morning and Mr. Ahuja waited at the bus stop with his eldest son, Arjun. The sun swung over Delhi like a fiery wrecking ball, the entire city exploding with mirages and reflections that hurt the eye, Marutis and Toyotas and Ambassadors glittering by at top speed in their metallic finery. Clouds heaping in cumulus shelves overhead. The chalky pavements dizzying under eddies of dust. At least Mr. Ahuja was in the shade, under a tree, with Arjun. The middle-aged minister was becoming hard of hearing — the traffic on Modi Estate Road came to him like the indistinct whirr of a waterfall — but oh yes, he had heard Arjun’s question. And the question was Papa, I don’t understand — why do you and Mama keep having babies?
The boy had been as discreet as the bus stop would allow. He had waited for his other siblings — Rita, Sahil, Rahul, Varun, Tanya, Aneesha, Rishi — to leave. And then he had walked up to his Papa (Papa who insisted on seeing off the eight of his thirteen children who attended school every morning) and popped the question with the abruptness of a coin-toss in a cricket match. The words were said — Arjun turned away jauntily, thrust his fingers into his torn pockets, and scratched his hairy thigh. His white school pants were too short; they rode up around his ankles.
Now, both Mr. Ahuja and Arjun saw the Delhi Transport Corporation school bus floating on a cool mirage of leaking oil and blazing road. Time was running out. In the end, all things considered, Mr. Ahuja decided he could not let the bus win. So he said, “Son, I told you about the Yograj Commission findings, correct? Then? You know I’m not a fanatic, but findings were hundred percent clear. We need more Hindus in India.”
“So I’m — we’re — just a political cause for you?” asked Arjun, twisting his neck to peer sidelong at his father.
“No, son. But you know how it is — these Muslims have so many wives, and their families keep growing, and what are we Hindus — ”
“Do you even know my name?” Arjun asked.
With a tragic swing of the schoolbag, Arjun boarded the bus and was gone.
Our reaction: While not a bashful one exists over here at Flavorwire, we couldn’t help but be taken aback by Mr. Ahuja’s confession. Now this is an entirely new fetish to us, and we feel quite sorry for Mrs. Arjun, who has to deal with her husband’s very inconvenient ideal. Very few sex lives are “normal,” and nor should they be, but this makes us a little uncomfy. Not many of us can relate to the desire to have 13 children, not many of us over here have any, so the concept that children are the sole impetus for sex seems like an archaic idea. After all, we do exist in an age with readily available methods of contraception. Furthermore, not only does the man want his wife only when she’s visibly pregnant, but the presence of the child in the womb, heartbeat and all, gets him hot. Now this is disturbing. Is Mr. Ahuja surprised that poor Arjun is a little sick of being one in thirteen? Hopefully mom and dad can split their attention equally. We’re not sure if that’s possible.
The verdict: Of course we’ll keep reading. We really want to know if Mr. Ahuja ever sorts this inconvenient compulsion out so that his wife can finally get the attention she deserves with or without child. Some birth control before number 14 is on the way might be a good idea as well. Seriously, after giving birth to 13 kids the woman deserves to get some whenever she pleases.