Book Review: *Family Planning* by Karan Mahajan


  • Family Planning by Karan Mahajan
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (November 18, 2008)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061537257
  • Back-of-the-Book-BlurbRakesh Ahuja, a Government Minister in New Delhi, is beset by problems: thirteen children and another on the way; a wife who mourns the loss of her favorite TV star; and a teenaged son with some really strong opinions about family planning.

    To make matters worse, looming over this comical farrago are secrets-both personal and political-that threaten to push the Ahuja household into disastrous turmoil. Following father and son as they blunder their way across the troubled landscape of New Delhi, Karen Mahajan brilliantly captures the frenetic pace of India’s capital city to create a searing portrait of modern family life.

    She is Too Fond of Books’ Review:  Family Planning is a farcical look at contemporary New Delhi.  On one hand is the Ahuja family – Arjun, the eldest son, is so embarrassed by the size of his own family that he has admitted to only six siblings (rather than the dozen he shares his space with!)  On the other hand we see the true problems of a city with a huge population, not the least of which is traffic congestion; Mr.  Rakesh Ahuja is a Minister of Urban Development, charged with managing the construction of “flyovers,” essentially massive cloverleafs, to alleviate the problem.  To make matters worse, Arjun walks in on his parents in flagrante delicto and is mortified not only by what he has seen (and the vision he can’t erase from his memory), but by trying to reconcile his parents’ actions alongside his own growing sexual curiosity.

    Arjun has fallen for a girl he sees on the bus ride to school each day.  Plotting to steal her heart, he invites her to come to a concert given by his band.  The missing link is that the band doesn’t yet exist.  Arjun conspires with his friends to form a band and stage a concert on one of the city’s flyovers.  The flyovers themselves are a disaster.  Designed to alleviate traffic, they don’t make a dent in the heavy flow, and are quite an eyesore.  Rakesh observers from the top of one:

    … he was crawling to the crest of the flyover.  Crawling.  This was to be the simultaneous beauty and tragedy of the flyovers:  you’d escape the red lights, but the traffic was growing so fast that you’d still be jammed, your only consolation a view of Delhi from a height.

    Mrs. Sangita Ahuja is seen as a large empty-headed woman who sees the characters on her favorite soap opera as her true family.  She and Mr. Ahuja share some secrets from their pasts; to reveal or to guard these secrets becomes a bone of contention.

    Mahajan describes her:

    She was forty years old – the type of forty that led people to comment “You look too young to be sixy.” 

    This is typical of the smart, sharp writing that characterizes Mahajan’s debut novel.  Family Planning blends satire with truth, following the antics of young Arjun inside the backdrop of Rakesh Ahuja’s Minister position in a corrupt political climate that reeks of nepotism and favoritism.  It’s a fun combination that leaves the reader both fully entertained and hungry for more.

    Author Karan Mahajan was raised in New Delhi; he graduated from Stanford University and now lives in Brooklyn.  The Harper Perennial paperback edition contains a P.S. section with an author essay, his thoughts on writing Family Planning (including an annotated list of abandoned titles), and a list of books he’s reading now.  Many thanks to HarperCollins for my review copy of Family Planning. 

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