Love by Chance: The Stylistics of Transformation

Written by Mansi Kashyap, Love by Chance is a teenage romance that celebrates youth, camaraderie, friendship, family, and transformation. The novel sits well with the tradition of Indian English Literature that finds its inspiring moment with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, first published in 1981. When Rushdie adopted the Bollywood style narration for the English language in the book the Indian English literary scene was transforming. It was never the same again. Where the ironed-out, grammatically perfect sentences ruled the literary scene, now the street vocabulary and grammar proudly walked on the arena. Love By Chance experiments with the narrative style using simple yet appropriate language that is easy on the common reader and appealing to the young generation of readers. 

The characters of the novel also became more realistic representatives of the multicultural landscape of India. 

The female protagonist of the novel, Jessi aka Jesmeet Sethi, finds her life in the middle of an unfamiliar yet reassuring culture, a culture that was her own, but one she never owned. She lived in London with her parents, a regular family living in the Indian diaspora. Her father's professional changes affect the family. When he found a highly paid new job opportunity in India, the whole family had to move back to the ancestral land.  

It is in this new landscape of her life that she finds her new best friend and love interest. Beyond the man-woman relationship, this novel deals with the turns in Jessi's life as she confronts her new school in the new locale. 

Her family settled in New Delhi, India where Jessi and her brother Monty joined a new high school. For Jessi, following her father’s will is of high priority. Living with her family is also important for her, which is an unmistakably Indian trait that the character effortlessly proclaims through her attitude. “Our families are very strong and closely knit, and we are always there for each other,” (3) says Jessi, who is the first person voice of the narration of the novel. In her relationship with her father and family, Jessi is not the ordinary heroine in her late teens. She is kind towards them, respectful, and considerate of them. She is certainly different, and unique. Young Adult fiction protagonists often embody a sense of revolt and rebellious dissidence. Often, this dissidence could take the form of disrespect or anger towards family or dominant societal structures or values. Society often takes the form of a subjugator, alien in its moral codes and intricate in its power structures. The protagonist of Love by Chance does not fit into these patterns. Her problems are not solved by dissidence. Rebellion or dissidence does not feature as a possible solution in her life. She is not obnoxious about her parents or family like JD Salinger's coming-of-age hero was. For Jessi, her father is “smart, intellectual and very flexible.” (3) Nothing is disagreeable between her father and mother. Her relatives, even though appear killjoys, find a special place in her family. 

Used to her life in the UK, moving to India leaves her occasionally melancholic and a bit confused. There are moments in the novel when Jessi longs to share her stories with her best friends from her life in the UK, and wonders where they would be at that time. The change of locale thus gives Jessi, not just her adventures but also thoughts about her present life in India in contrast with the life of her London friends. 

Even though her parents belong to India, her upbringing had happened abroad, in the UK. The change of places puts her in the centre of a new life. The story primarily addresses the question of how Jessi finds her footing in the new landscape, among her relatives, friends at school, neighbours, and the customs and culture of India. Still, life in India, for Jessi, is not a fight against an alien society. She doesn't find India disagreeable with her individuality.

The novel merely touches upon the diasporic stereotypes of loss and absence. These are portrayed through Jessi's emotional states. The mindscape of Jessi is a crucial locale that the novel portrays in great depth, though never analysing it directly. The craft of Mansi Kashyap shines through in the portrayal of Jessi. 

It is quite interesting to note the first confessions made by Jessi regarding her relationship with boys. She acknowledges that she had trust issues with boys. Later, through Samar, her worst fears are realised. Still, we see Jessi giving fate a second chance with her life. She lets life flow through her without being stubborn or evasive. She opens herself to another person, Akash. The tale of Jessi serves as an example for someone who wonders if it’s wise and safe to allow second chances to oneself, especially in matters of the heart, and interpersonal relationships. Even though broken several times, Jessi’s heart finds “serendipity”. Jessi is a round character. In the denouement, she is not the same person who entered the story. The change is subtle and psychological. She learns the hard lessons of life such as “[t]he thing about people leaving us is that they never come back.” Samar, Akash, Yana, Imly, and Terrance are others who assist her in the way of transition. Such transition does not just happen in the realm of thoughts. It’s experiential and the other characters are wisely placed to distribute the weight of Jessi’s transition evenly. In the process, the arc of these characters undergoes subtle transformations. 

I purchased this novel online, as I always do since the arrival of online retail companies in India. Occasionally, I would go for the bookstore experience. However, it is an experience I would like to avoid in the post-pandemic situation. There are three reasons, firstly, it takes money to cover the distance between my home and any good bookstore. The second reason is the lack of customer care and the third is that these bookstores are poorly stocked. Love by Chance grabbed my attention with its title. Here is someone who cracked the formula for the apt title for an Indian English novel. It doesn’t even require a knowledge of the English language to decipher the meaning of the title for a common reader from India. In India, English is one of the national languages. However, a thorough knowledge of the language is not mandatory to survive in the country. There are those with “just enough English” who do marvellous feats of communication, professionally as well as in the personal realm.  

Mansi Kashyap

With only a working knowledge of English, the second language speaker could grasp it. “Love” and “By chance” are expressions that we often come across in our daily conversations even while speaking a regional language. This vernacularism is the hooking feature of the title of the novel. Even though purchased online, this book offered one of the best bookstore experiences that I cherish- the smell of the pages. The pages of the book smelled delicious and took me back to a bookish dreamscape. 

Another essentially stylistic factor that makes the novel unique is the presence of songs. Evocative of a Bollywood movie, characters burst into songs as the situation demands. These lyrics are well-composed and inspiring. The novelty of songs accompanying a long fiction narrative also accomplishes the act of rejuvenating YA fiction in India.