The Promise by Nikita Singh used to be my favorite novel as a teenager. And I somehow wish I had not tainted that guileless experience by reading again. I now have mixed feelings about this one. Singh mentions in the foreword that the novel’s green cover looks amazing. It certainly does. But it gives a sense of surrealism. And if that’s the expectation you start off with, you’re up for some major disappointment. As they say, do not judge a book by its cover!
The Promise (Review)
The Promise is the tragic love story of Shambhavi (23) and Arjun (29), based on the age-old “opposites attract” formula. But how Singh makes these ill-matched pieces fit is a joy to read. Promises are broken and mended. Paths are separated and synchronized.
Shambhavi’s “red room of pain” remark is a carefully crafted dig at Arjun’s character. We are reminded of how he, with all that dark air around him, is similar to Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades trilogy. Whether or not this was intentionally done by Singh, read on to figure out. The story is segmented into five parts. Each chapter begins with an introductory quote that prepares you for what is to follow, building on the readers’ curiosity.
For most parts, the story is predictable. But the way Singh builds on the narrative is refreshing. The plot is linear in the sense that we get just one flashback to present Arjun’s backstory. Rest everything, like the female protagonist, is fast-paced and functions in the present. One moment, we’re told about Arjun’s dreamless sleep, and at the very next, we get to know about his dream of becoming an architect. There is no room for ambiguous or unnecessary elements. Singh writes things as they are, raising the relatability quotient even higher.
At different points in the story, we are presented with different definitions of love. In the first chapter itself, Shambhavi (referring to her best friend’s relationship) describes love as something that happens at unexpected places, between unexpected people, during unexpected times. This holds just as true for herself as she eventually falls for “a certain Mr. Datta.” Arjun himself views love as “hope, a trance of fear, and a lot of uncertainty.” This perspective, I believe, is better suited to the time when the honeymoon phase is over between the two.
Singh indulges mostly in telling rather than showing. She could have done away with stock characterization, at least for the protagonists. While Shambhavi gives a lot of attention to details, the same can’t be said about Singh’s portrayal of her. The novel reads more like a movie script and I do not mean that in a good way. The writing style, however, does improve a lot in the second half, giving way to a reduction in such binary notations. Early on, the narrator implies that only men take interest in “intelligent stuff,” while women can just nod and pretend to understand it. Shambhavi’s assistant was “supposed to go crazy shopping, not be a workaholic.” And last but not least, Shambhavi just assumes that “all rich people have hot female secretaries.” No matter how the story unfolded and the characters developed, nothing could make up for extremely ignorant statements like these.
The lead couple lives in Indore but there is hardly ever a depiction of city life, apart from an occasional sprinkling of words like “Chappan Dukaan.” Singh makes the best use of her strengths; the dialogic scenes are something to watch out for. You can imagine those conversations playing out right in front of you. The story is likely to hold you in a warm embrace throughout, just like Shambhavi does to her best friend, Mili. And if you’re someone who gets completely immersed in books, brace yourself for some tear-jerking moments.
The best part for me is The Promise’s celebration of the everyday elements of ordinary love. There is no over-the-top mushiness. I chuckled at the endearing depiction of Shambhavi’s second meeting with Arjun. She wondered if she should add that she was his biggest fan and would love an autograph. Isn’t that how each of us felt around our first love/crush? We also become privy to this newly-in-love couple’s initial, earnest need to impress each other. What ties our protagonists together is their common penchant for art. And it is this aesthetical taste itself that they unconsciously make use of, to win over the other. Towards the end, Arjun’s attempt to decorate Shambhavi’s room with her beloved paintings has been compared to “showing your first sketch to a teacher at school.” And it is this very act that brings their love story to a full circle."The best part for me is The Promise's celebration of the everyday elements of ordinary love." Click To Tweet
The ending is realistic and straightforward. Surprisingly, Singh does not conform to Bollywood ethos and there is no typical airport scene (though that’s how the story begins). You might feel a bit lost by the time you keep this novel aside for the story carries a hint of nostalgia about love, especially unrequited love. If Indian romance and drama are your go-to genre, then you definitely can’t miss out on this emotional roller coaster!