When a journo falls for a babu

Written by Ranjona Banerji | Updated: Mar 25 2012, 06:53am hrs
True confessions: I do not read much chick lit and I very rarely read fiction. Also, I do know the writer of Kiss & Tell, Nistula Hebbar, a little bit. Okay, so thats off my conscience.

Now to the fun stuff. Kiss & Tell has a little teaser on the cover: They cant keep their hands off each other but can they keep their secrets And as luck will have it, the secrets are nothing to do with sordid stuff like hidden husbands or former lovers. At any rate, the former lovers are not secrets.

Janaki Rao is a bright young Delhi-based political journalist who has been sent by her boss to Chennai to work on a story. There she meets a fast-tracked bureaucrat Vishnu Singh, a little older than her, and they both feel an enormous frisson of excitement. Rao has a boyfriend and Singh an ex-girlfriend he has never quite recovered from. Both find the sexual charge too tempting to resist and succumb to one kiss.

Then Janaki comes back to Delhi, a bit shocked at her crotch-patting boldness, and to loser arty boyfriend Saurabh. The only saving grace which this lazy laidback boyfriend seems to have is that he apparently knows how to make rajma-chawal and even offers to make it. (Assuming he doesnt make a total mess of the kitchen like men tend to do, he is probably worth having around when the cook is on leave.) Anyway, Janaki is fed up with him and his lack of commitment, scrounging ways and overall loserness. (She is not young enough to appreciate the rajma-chawal clearly.)

Meanwhile, the bosses in her newspaper give her a plum story which will not only do wonders for her career but also bring down a minister if not a government. Janaki has some misgivings about the source of the storyan opposition ministerbut is reassured by her editors that all will be well.

As luck would have it, Vishnu has now been transferred to Delhi and works for the said minister under scrutiny. Janaki and he meet again, feel the sizzle again and know that this one is for real. She dumps Saurabh and much kissing happens. After Vishnu manages to borrow a friends flat, much sex also happens.

But as the romance blooms, there are storm clouds everywhere. Vishnus mother is a patrician horror story and his ex-girlfriend Gayatri whos having problems with her husband is making a play for himwith mummys help. Janaki is torn between her loyalty to her new lover and her career-making story. Will their love survive the repercussions on his career when her story about the wrongdoings of his minister breaks What about Gayatri And how about the attraction she feels for that opposition leader The path to true love and all that

Kiss & Tell is an intelligent member of the chick lit genre and, given Hebbars experience as a journalist, an engrossing entre into the world of newspapers, reporters and editors. The twists and turns of Janakis breaking story are fascinating and told with ease, from the camaraderie to the back-stabbing and including the spectre of manipulated news.

Janaki is very much a girl du jour and very much a Delhi girl. She is intelligent, funny and straightforward. She lives an unashamedly contemporary life and has none of the simpering hypocrisy which might affect many such books (or girls). There is a lot of Hindi but thats true of Delhi as well. Lots of Old Monk and sex make Kiss & Tell refreshingly honest.

The problems I had were with the love story itself. We are told about the great sexual tension between Janaki and Vishnu but we never really feel it. The romance of love-making got a bit forgotten in the hardnesses and warm wetnesses. Sex is notoriously difficult to write of course but its just that the emotion of the moment I felt got lost.

Its a peculiar criticism because this is an enjoyable book to read. Like all Indian books, it could do with better editing but that is hardly the authors fault. The story moves quickly, the detailing is good, the conversations sound real and the characters are likeableor notmuch as they should be.

Youll be smiling at the end but not clutching your heart as you weep into your pillow for the glory of love.

The author is a freelance journalist