Anuja Chauhan and the Missing January

I recently reread Anuja Chauhan’s Those Pricey Thakur Girls. This was an extremely close reread, because I was looking for specific details to figure out when exactly the sequel takes place. And in the process I discovered something surprising. Time in Those Pricey Thakur Girls does not move at a constant rate. At least ninety days have just vanished from the narrative. The rest of this post describes how this happens, in detail. This of course means that I will give away many, many spoilers for the book. It also means that this post will probably be of interest to you only if you have already read the book; which means the relevant readership for the post is tiny, probably even smaller than this blog’s already vanishing readership. However, it’s an interesting discovery, so I might as well set it out anyway. Here we go.

When exactly is Those Pricey Thakur Girls set? The interesting thing is that the book itself never really sets the date out explicitly. The actual year has to be worked out from various pieces of information, but the biggest clues are to do with dating the events of the book from the anti-Sikh violence in Delhi that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Now, the targeted killings have been slightly fictionalised in the book. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are never mentioned by name, and nor is the Congress Party. Several of the principal Congress Party functionaries who were implicated in the murders have been amalgamated into a single character, Hardik Motla. The neighbourhood of Trilokpuri has been renamed Tirathpuri. So, for the purposes of this fictionalisation, Anuja Chauhan could have moved the date of the riots as well. However, towards the later half of the book, we do get an explicit date.

In Chapter 10, the riots are dated to 1 November, 1984, which matches the date of real life.

DSS: And you were present in thise house on the entire night of 1 November 1984?

In Chapter 11, we find that the present date is four years on:

‘Of course not!’ Hira chuckles. ‘Truth. Balance. Courage. And by a happy coincidence, tomorrow is the first of November, the fourth anniversary of the massacre….’

Aha! So we have a date. TPTG takes place in 1988. We now know that Chapter 11 has taken us to October 31, 1988; while the opening lines of the book reveal that the story begins in April 1988:

On a still evening in early April, when bees buzz torpidly amidst black-eyed sunflowers and the scent of mango blossom is in the air…

But starting 1 November, things get weird.

First of all, our hero, Dylan Singh Shekhawat, is arrested on trumped up charges in the last section of Chapter 11, which takes place on 1 November 1988:

‘Make fun,’ she says bitterly. ‘You are not on the front page today.’

‘Actually, I am, and unlike you, even my photo has been printed.’

At the end of Chapter 12, we find that the narrative has moved forward to late November, when Viewstrack journalist Mitali Dutta talks about when her report exonerating Dylan Singh Shekhawat will become public:

‘In four days, I think,’ Mitali replied, glowing happily. ‘It’s the end of the month, na, so we’re going to fast-track it and shove it into the tape that’s going out now.’

On a Sunday, presumably the immediately following one if we take Mitali’s statement at face value, her report comes out:

Juliet Bai attends early morning Mass on Sunday. She leaves home before the India Post arrives, but on her way back she pauses at her kirana to pick up the latest issue of Viewstrack.

A little further into Chapter 13, we come to a Friday. So by now we are at least nine days away from the time when Mitali said that it was the end of November.

When the TV crackles on this particular evening, his fourth in the lock-up, he realizes abruptly that it is Friday.

Chapter 14 moves the narrative forward two days, as seen from the excerpts below:

Late the next night, Varun Ohri is fast asleep when a sibilant whisper sounds in his ear.

and:

‘Tomorrow’s headlines.’ He grins, flashing broken teeth. ‘Every single word written in there is true. I have made it all come true.’

Which means that the Sunday morning paper reads:

In a special statement issued privately to this columnist, the Prime Minister declared: ‘… What has been done to Dylan Shekhawat is disgraceful. He is to be released with immediate effect.’

In the next section of Chapter 14, it’s the last day of school, and also a Friday:

‘You’ll get over it,’ she says sleepily. ‘Last day of school does not equal last day on the planet.’

and:

It’s been five days since DD’s remarkable volte face.

That means that we’re still in December. But, in the next section, it’s still the last day of school and we find this:

It has never tasted as good as it does on this gorgeously cool but sunny, perfect February day.

Where did January vanish?

Of course, there may be a simpler explanation. Since our dating hinges on Mitali saying it’s the end of the month, maybe I have misestimated, and she actually says this at the end of January. Maybe Chapter 12 takes place three months after Chapter 11, and it’s simply taken them that long to investigate. Which is plausible; though it does raise the question of why everybody else is the story’s activities from October to January are passed over so blithely. But even if this is true, there is still a weird inconsistency in the narrative: if Dylan Singh Shekhawat is arrested on 1 November, and the Friday of Chapter 14 is in early February, why is it only his fourth day in the lockup? There are three possible explanations.

First, the simplest, Occam’s Razor explanation: there was simply a failure of either editing or writing. It’s the simplest, but also the least fun.

Second: there is no inconsistency. It was Dylan’s fourth day in the Connaught Place lockup; but this is because he had been moved there from another lockup. Maybe the original lockup had filled up so he was moved to Connaught Place. Maybe he was being rotated from lockup to lockup after the press started angrily publicising his incarceration.

And third, the most complex explanation, but also the one that adds another layer of meaning to Those Pricey Thakur Girls (and as we shall see in a follow up post, its sequel, The House That BJ Built): TPTG is not just romantic comedy, it is also science fiction. Making large chunks of 1988 and 1989 disappear is not editorial oversight, it is a clue left in plain sight for keen eyed readers to realise that the world of TPTG is a parallel timeline that has broken off from our own, losing a few months in the process. This is comparable to how in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, messy time travel and magic keep resulting in time periods getting lost or repeated, with Time Monks having to move time from eras where it’s surplus and not needed, to eras where it’s required.

What is the evidence for this? Well, going back to Chapter 13, Dylan starts off in Connaught Place police chowki:

The TV at the Connaught Place police chowki sits atop a weirdly hissing refrigerator…

and shortly thereafter, has a weird feeling:

It is just a moment’s pause – probably a glitch with the autocue – but it feels somehow momentous. Maybe it’s because the expression on her face is so strange. Oddly resolute and a little scared, but also like she might start giggling at any moment. Dylan gets the unnerving feeling that she can actually see him, that she is watching him watching her with unwilling eyes – unshaven, bloody and bedraggled – through the bars of the lock-up in the Minto Bridge police chowki.

at the end of which, suddenly he has moved from the Connaught Place chowki to the Minto Bridge chowki.

You may point out that Minto Bridge is on a road off Connaught Place, so perhaps the Connaught Place chowki and the Minto Bridge chowki are one and the same. Even so, why refer to them as two different places? I think this is a pointer dropped that the glitch ‘in the autocue’ is actually a glitch in the Matrix. This is the point at which causal domain shear has occurred, and the all the characters of TPTG have dropped down one leg of the trousers of time, while a few weeks have dropped down the other leg. Through sheer force of will, Debjani Thakur creates a parallel universe. Whatta woman.

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