It is not every day that a debut author gets a foreword penned by one of the most celebrated writers in the country. Ruskin Bond’s crisp introduction of his protégé Anil Chopra lends valuable insight into the making of his novel. Unforeseen Desires is a contemplative novel that meanders across the scenic landscapes of Dehradun, makes a quick detour for a Delhi chapter and culminates in Glasgow.
Arun is a young doctor doing his internship in a Dehradun hospital while his mother and siblings continue to live in the UK. Arun’s fellow interns include the effervescent Sujata, the lascivious Sodi, the pompous son of a political bigwig, Rana, and the pretty nurse Trishna. His seniors are the gorgeous Dr Nasreen Gupta and Arun’s mentor, Dr Kumar.
Life is unremarkable till a couple of expensive finger rings, given to him for safe keeping by Nasreen during a tricky surgery, vanish and Arun is slapped with charges of theft. Pulled up by the snarky hospital superintendent who threatens to hold back his medical certificate, Arun’s life starts steadily spiralling downwards till he is befriended by the attractive missionary Victoria Lambert who offers him alternative accommodation in an apartment building close to her bungalow.
Soon an unlikely friendship springs up between the young medico and the older English woman.
Arun harbors a not-so-secret crush on Sujata even as a smitten Trisha leads him on to a couple of amorous capers. Nasreen’s husband, lawyer Rakesh Gupta, informs Arun that he will have to pay monetary compensation for the lost rings. Victoria steps in magnanimously.
The novel touches fleetingly on subjects like leprosy, the fate of rustic TB patients, the lives of the nomadic herdsmen, the Gujjars, besides being peppered with riveting male bonding (Sodi and Arun’s motorbike trip to meet a buddy stationed at the foot of the Himalayas is particularly memorable), all of it played out against a backdrop of the Emergency and the Indira Gandhi-initiated programme of mass sterilisation.
There is a horrible accident involving Nasreen and a Pandora’s Box bursts open spilling guilty secrets and forbidden truths. All interpersonal relationships of the closely-knit group undergo a paradigm shift.
Sujata gets engaged to the handsome Major Dhillon and there is an astonishing turn of events involving Arun at the engagement ceremony. Cleared of all charges due to changed circumstances, Arun gets his much anticipated certificate of completion and looks forward to a posting in a top Delhi hospital as promised by Victoria’s friend, the benevolent bureaucrat Mr Roy.
However, a political scandal results in a massive shift of power at the Centre and dashes Arun’s professional dreams. With his name conspicuously left out of the list of selected candidates, Arun decides to go back to his family in the UK. A lovelorn Trishna and a forlorn Victoria bid him goodbye. Life in the dreary family home in Manchester is very different from what he had anticipated as Arun starts preparing for his next lot of qualifying exams in the UK.
Chopra’s prose is lyrical in some places and mundane in some others. He is at his best when describing places, weather and atmospherics. The etching of characters is deliberately uneven.