In a previous post, I showed that Anuja Chauhan’s Those Pricey Thakur Girls is, in addition to being a super enjoyable romantic comedy, also a work of science fiction, where we get to witness timelines go awry as events are reshaped.
Now, let us turn our attention to the sequel, The House That BJ Built. In the past post, we discovered that TPTG ends on a day in February 1989. From this, we can work out when THTBJB takes place. The first paragraph of the first chapter tells us:
Twenty times the Amaltas trees along Hailey Road have burst into glorious yellow flower since the day Dylan Singh Shekhawat threw himself off a terrace six stories high.
Right. Amaltas trees bloom in May. Usually. Thanks to climate change, they have now started blossoming even in early April. But since there have been only twenty blossomings, this places us sometime between May 2008 and April 2009 – and in 2009, things were not that bad. In fact, here is a Delhi Walla photo essay from May 2009 talking about amaltas trees blooming in May and June.
Shortly after that, we are able to narrow the beginning of the book down even further, to between December 2008 and February 2009, thanks to this line:
Today, as the watery winter sunshine filters in through the grilled windows of Number 16, it sparkles upon the tiny diamond nose stud of the lone Thakur girl in residence.
But if it’s December 2008 or early 2009, it’s a very odd 2009. As we can see from the prologue:
Samar drops the phone onto the bed and looks about blearily for his iPad.
The iPad first became available in April 2010. How has it appeared a year and a half ahead of its release?
Then, in Chapter 3, we discover that a certain biopic has been produced and released long before 2013, which is when we watched it:
So many bio-pics take creative liberties- look at Milkha Singh. You think Milkha really got it on with a hot blonde Aussie chick the night before his big race?
In Chapter 6, it turns out that Connaught Place has a Starbucks. Which makes it four years ahead of the October 2012 launch that we experienced.
In Chapter 12, Samar and the Trings are checking YouTube on their phones – two and a half years before there is 3G service in India; and for that matter, widespread smartphone availability.
And finally, in the epilogue, we find a reference to a movie that released in 2014:
Chandu, who has got sense now and returned to her husband, and whose hair is looking so cute, like Anushka in PK!
If you assume conservatively that the epilogue takes place exactly a year after the prologue, and so, in December 2009, that means that PK has released at least five years ahead of schedule.
Why has so much popular culture and technology shown up so much earlier in The House That BJ Built than we know it to have arrived in our own lives? What explains this unseemly haste? Is it the same timeline jolting that took place in Those Pricey Thakur Girls? Possible, but I have an alternate theory. Which is this: the timelines have settled, but by the time 2009 and The House That BJ Built roll about, history has been irrevocably altered.
This changed history starts with Debjani making her rogue broadcast towards the end of Those Pricey Thakur Girls. In history as we know it, the state owned broadcaster challenging the state itself never happened, and so the government served out its term until the 1989 Lok Sabha Elections, after which we had two years of instability, followed by fresh elections, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, a balance of payments crisis, and then economic reform.
But in the world of Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Debjani Thakur going rogue means that political instability arrives in February 1989 itself, and to add to this, Purushottam Ohri and Dylan Singh Shekhawat’s entry into television news meant that investigative journalism never let up the pressure on any government to follow. The balance of payments crisis arrived much earlier, and so did structural economic reform.
In turn, this meant that the Indian market opened up to the world a year or so earlier than 1991, and continued crisis forced even more economic liberalisation in reaction. The one year early start doesn’t seem like much, but it, and the cumulative effect of muckraking journalism meant that by the late 90s, India’s economy had grown to a point where it was influencing and accelerating the development of social trends and technology. Thanks to a much more open economy, Starbucks could enter India well before 2009. Thanks to the massive Indian demand, Apple could develop and release the iPhone and the iPad simultaneously, instead of with a three year gap between the two. Data spectrum too was made available much earlier, and with the increased cultural openness, the terrible movies of the mid-90s bombed miserably, prompting directors and writers to bring their more experimental ideas – biopics of athletes and satires of religion – to production much earlier.
The alternate timeline that Debjani Thakur brought into existence is far superior to the one we live in. It is wealthier, sweeter, and possibly has even less global warming. It is a universe where Hailey Road has a delicatessen and charcuterie – which would have been so useful to me when I used to go to German classes at Max Mueller Bhavan! – and one in which taking giant amounts of cash on an international flight is not an economic offense. It is an idyllic world, and I wish I lived in it.