I know you don’t exist. But, somehow after reading my friend Vaishnavi Nair’s novel, I’m in the mood to write you a letter.
You see, I was born and brought up in Chennai. The only snow I’ve seen was inside a cinema theatre. By the time I came to know about you, I’d already been introduced to Swami Dayananda’s story of watching a rat run over a Siva linga. So I never really got to believe in you or your flock of reindeer and neither have I received any presents from you till date.
“OK Now, who’s my Santa?” begins with a letter that Annika Pillai writes to you. And I thought, if she can write to you, why can’t I?
You see, Annika Pillai is this crazy girl in her early twenties, who’s working at the world’s best tech company… let me jut in here and add that I’m jealous of anyone who’s working there… and yet, her biggest problem in life is that her horrible haircut is evoking comments from her colleagues. Or so we think. As the story progresses, we get to know that she actually has other problems — she hasn’t found her passion at work, her close friends are having their personal struggles too, and she’s confused about her relationship with a very close buddy of hers, Manjral. And to add to all of this drama, employees at Infinity Inc. play Secret Santa and Annika’s Santa, gives her the feeling that he’s hitting on her.
Annika, is the exact opposite of me Santa. This novel is the polar opposite of my life. When I get on a call with my mother after ten seconds, we mostly don’t know what to talk about. But, in this novel, Annika Pillai, the protagonist writes emails to her mom, her dad, her sister and her brother-in-law at least once every day and sometimes even more! I enjoyed that though, because novels are fundamentally the ability to live another person’s life for a short while. Although she’s narrating her daily life in the letters, there’s a lot many digs and punches that the family members exchange between each other. And that shows us how close Annika really is with her family.
She’s always positive, wants to go out of her way to make people happy, is quick to get pissed off and even quicker to break into a smile or hug and a little bit bla when it comes to talking. She’s a bundle of energy and maybe it’s because the author shares some of these qualities, that she’s able to make this character enjoyable to read. Once you’re a few pages into the story, although you know that none of Annika’s problems are going to be serious enough, you do feel this sense of “hope she gets all her problems sorted out”.
The Secret Santa game and how it pans out within the world’s best tech company was quite fun to read. I got reminded of the one time we played Secret Santa in our flat. Or rather we tried to play. Somehow we didn’t quite understand the rules of the game. I remember one of my friends remarking, “But why should the gift be secret? Come to stationary shop. I’ll buy you a gift right away.” And once we drew the chits, one of them immediately looked at his Secret Child and instantly the child knew who his Santa was. And another one threw the chit away saying, “Hey! I don’t want to be this guy’s Santa” And then we had to redraw the chits. Anyway… it’s only when I read this book I realize how the game’s actually supposed to play out.
Now, let me get to my biggest problem with the book. And Santa, let me warn you, there are spoilers ahead. Until somewhere around the middle of the book, Annika keeps brushing aside people who say she and Manjral are in love. I was reading with the complete confidence that they’re friends indeed and that there’s nothing romantic between them. I was looking forward to how the author is going to break stereotypes in the climax and show to us that two people like Annika and Manjral can remain just friends indeed and show a big middle finger to usual Bollywoodish expectations. But what happens in the end? Turns out that Annika was simply confused about her feelings and she gets to know her real feelings for Manjral in the end and that dude “worships” her. I was like “What?!” Imagine Santa that you really do show up in front of children who believe in you and they realize that you actually look like Simbhu from VTV. I have nothing against you or Simbhu but then I couldn’t digest this Santa. Because right from the beginning, somehow Annika and Manjral always gave me only friendship vibes.
Probably the author was trying to portray a relationship inspired from real life. And to show how for some couples being in a relationship turns out to be an extension of being very close friends. There might be real couples like Annika and Manjral. Maybe… But I’d have preferred them to just be friends. Romance didn’t really seem necessary to complete the relationship that they shared.
Also, Santa I felt Gargi’s character could have been developed a bit more fully. The closure to her story arc felt a bit hurried. And since there are so many, many characters in the book, I couldn’t invest in Gargi’s emotions well enough. The premise behind her relationship and why it doesn’t end up in marriage is quite unique and could have been developed further. Perhaps the structure of the novel, being a series of e-mails written by Annika, acted as a limitation to go beyond and delve into the lives of other characters a little more deeply.
After reading the book, I read every review that’s been written about it — on Goodreads, Amazon and wherever else I could find. People have said good things about it and I’m happy to read them. I feel the world is yet to see this author’s best. Having read her short stories before, I feel this novel is a mere teaser to everything else that’s going to come. Do send her my wishes Santa for the next book she’s writing and yeah, just make sure she keeps writing. (I don’t know how you’ll do it. But you’re a creative guy when it comes to presents. I’m sure you’ll come up with some tactic.)
This book will definitely be special to me Santa — for two reasons. One — This is the first complete novel I’ve read that’s written by a friend whom I know personally 🙂 In fact, I knew this friend of mine would end up writing a book some day. Two — Thanks to this book, I’m now richer by ten dollars (It’s an inside joke Santa. Don’t bother.)
Until the next book,
“OK Now, who’s my Santa?” is a novel by Vaishnavi Nair and can be purchased here.