The Zoya Factor
by Anuja Chauhan
When the younger players in India’s cricket team find out that advertising executive Zoya Singh Solanki was born at the very moment India won the World Cup back in 1983, they are intrigued. When having breakfast with her is followed by victories on the field, they are impressed. And when not eating with her results in defeat, they decide she’s a lucky charm. The nation goes a step further. Amazed at the ragtag team’s sudden spurt of victories, it declares her a Goddess. So when the eccentric IBCC president and his mesmeric, always-exquisitely-attired Swamiji invite Zoya to accompany the team to the tenth ICC World Cup, she has no choice but to agree. Pursued by international cricket boards on the one hand, wooed by Cola majors on the other, Zoya struggles to stay grounded in the thick of the world cup action. And it doesn’t help that she keeps clashing with the erratically brilliant new skipper who tells her flatly that he doesn’t believe in luck…
SUCH AN ADORABLE STORY. So I have slowly been converted into a fan of romance novels, and this story is one of the few that I absolutely adore. Between the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and the chemistry that was leaping off the pages at me between the two protagonists, I was hooked from start to finish. I could not put the novel down – four hours on a ten hour flight was dedicated to reading this book.
I would recommend it to anyone who will stop long enough for me to gush. One does need a basic grasp of India to completely immerse themselves into the story, though. I personally have only been to India a handful of times, but it definitely invokes the sense of the people and the culture of the region. And while it can be enjoyed without the knowledge of the way people think and are in India, it adds a certain realism to actually have an idea. It may confuse clueless readers otherwise.
Anuja has this wonderful grasp of the different tones of voice and dialects that make up Indian voices. There were certain emphasis’ and ideas that were so SPOT ON that I just froze, and then certain turns of phrases that had me cracking up – to the husband’s eternal amusement.
And then there are the characters – many are caricatures and exaggerations of people, and these are often also seen in Bollywood – but they are wonderfully written. Zoya is a simple girl who is good at her job, and somehow incredibly lucky to cricket players. She gets swept up in a flurry, and it is heartwarming to see her try and retain her sense of self as she is marketed as a commodity to the world. But there were many times where she had me hitting my head in frustration. I was still rooting for her throughout, though – she is so adorable and insecure and trying so very hard to be the very best version of herself that it is hard not to love her.
Then there is the captain of the cricket team. Nikhil Khoda. NIKHIL FUCKING KHODA. Dark and aloof and sarcastic and unf. I think – no, I’m pretty damn certain I love him more than I love Mr Darcy. He made me SWOON from beginning to end. It was extremely frustrating how fucking incapable Zoya and Nikhil were at communication, but the end was so fucking cute that I forgive them.
The undercurrent of the story is a social commentary on the politics and superstitious natures that is rampant in India, all wrapped up in a nice, snarky romantic comedy.
I seriously hope they do make this into a film, because it could be one of the best things Bollywood has ever done. Something in the style of Bend It Like Beckham, for international audiences rather than a musical. (But please, do not put Gurinder Chadda in charge, because it was all downhill for her after Bend It Like Beckham, that was the best thing she ever made.)