Those Days in Delhi by Yashodhara Lal centers on a young girl named Gudia and how she goes about one fine summer in her teenage years. Set in Delhi in the 90s, this novel is a coming-of-age tale of a typically awkward middle child who is discovering new changes about herself and viewing the world around her afresh. The plot revolves around the day-to-day life of Gudia and the realizations that she has as a teenager growing up in urban Delhi. Those Days in Delhi‘s plot is about this 12-year-old character and her emotions, thoughts, and dynamic views as she experiences a phase where she is neither an independent adult nor a very small child. It is the age of being in her teens that creates a mix of thoughts and emotions within her. She is seeing things in a new way, realizing that there is more to the world, yet she seems to be unable to process it all at once.
There is nothing very deep or complicated about the plot. It is a rather simple and straightforward explication of the life of a teen who has too many questions but can find very few answers. This age of being in between adulthood and childhood clashes with the fact that she is the middle child, in between her older and younger siblings. She has to face certain challenges as a middle child because she is neither young enough to be excused for everything, so she cannot get away easily with mischief, nor old enough to decide things on her own. She has a complex relationship with her younger sister, Chand, whom she likes and dislikes at the same time because Chand is pampered and excused for any mistake or naughtiness. Her older sibling is mean and domineering, so despite being in a family with siblings of her own, she can barely share any of her problems with them. So she ends up secretly harboring her thoughts in her mind. Additionally, she receives a lot of hand-me-downs from her older sibling, and that is a matter that annoys her to the core, though it is a characteristic issue faced by the middle child. This makes Gudia a very relatable character. She is, deep down, portrayed as very angry with the circumstances of her life, but that is reflective of her naivety and her teenage immaturity. She is, in fact, just a very inquisitive individual who is in the process of discovering the ways of the world.
One of the factors of adolescence is the physical changes that take place in an individual, which affect one’s self-esteem. Gudia, too, is at this point when she is conscious of her outer appearance, which includes her dislike for her name, Gudia, which means doll in Hindi. She doesn’t want to be seen as a soft, tender, and pitiful person but rather as someone who is strong, independent, and capable of doing her tasks on her own. Her inner rebel rises up from time to time. This is seen from the very beginning of the novel when she sneaks out of her house to go to purchase certain things from Khan Market, which is against the rules set by her parents. Being a teen, there are many matters that Gudia experiences for the very first time, such as getting her body hair waxed and developing a crush. She is also shown to be obsessed with certain things, like basketball and the boy with the American accent, and to have an unquenchable thirst to come out victorious in every aspect of her ever-changing life. Yet, these are the very things that stand as a challenge in her growth, not to mention her struggles to fetch good grades under the burden of a laborious academic syllabus and some strict teachers who make her life seem more miserable. Will Gudia lose it all and get carried away under the adrenaline rush of a teenager, or will she accept the help of her elders and overcome peer pressure to get her life together for the better?
On the whole, though Those Days in Delhi is rather lengthy, it is a light and refreshing read. The author’s expressions are sharp, with apt descriptions and a strong vocabulary. There is a strategic way of conveying complex ideas in a simplified language that is not only reflective of the author’s grip over the writing process but also makes her a good storyteller. The book is bound to get the readers reeling into nostalgia about their own teenage years, particularly those who grew up in Delhi in the 90s. The novel is rather episodic and does not follow any unidirectional path for relaying the scenes, but each incident has a certain focus that is based on an issue that teenage girls will be able to identify with. The incidents are lighthearted. They do not have any very serious or grim matters, but the innumerable episodes like sustaining oneself on pocket money, which teens are shy to ask for, the excitement of celebrating festivals, befriending someone who is unapproved as a friend by one’s parents, new-found emotions, physical changes, the generation gap, and nosy teachers come with their own set of peculiarities that a teenage girl from middle-class urban India will have experienced. Some episodes are subtle, while others serve as climactic scenes that act as a plot twist, though it is the relatability of the incidents and the portrayal of characters that make it so interesting. This includes Gudia’s character, who has a certain innocence about her that makes her so adorable. This allows readers to accept her first-person narrative point of view and go along with her on this topsy-turvy ride of growing up. The book is funny, but not hilarious. The humor comes more from the objective assessment and an eye for observation that Lal has mastered. The book will make readers giggle and bulge their eyes out because they may have experienced more or less similar things. Most importantly, Those Days in Delhi never loses focus on trying to empower readers through relatable and relevant content.