Book Review: Love Potion Number 10


Set in the 1960s, in the fictitious hill station of Hamara Nagar, Love Potion Number 10  transports its readers to a gentler age and times with its quirky cast of characters. Though touted as a Jana Bibi adventure, do not expect any pulse pounding action. The intrigue that the book blurb refers to is at best muted. But that doesn’t take away from the charm of the book.

The story is about Janet Laird (aka Jana Bibi),  the Scottish widow of a missionary,  who lives in a crumbling old house in the little hillside town along with her psychic parrot, Mr. Ganguly, her ayah, Mary,  an errand boy Tilku and an ex-army Nepali guard Lal Bahahur Pun. Her escapades include casting herself as a fortune teller to save the town from the threat of being flooded as a result of an upcoming dam. Thanks to the publicity that she has got for the town, Mr. Ganguly is now the potential target of a kidnapping attempt. While the plot of the book revolves around the kidnapping attempt, the highlight of the book is the lovely portrayal of Jana Bibi and her friends, the townspeople and assorted characters who flit in and out of the protagonist’s life.

The titular Love Potion Number 10 refers to an intoxicating elixir that imbues Jana Bibi with a zest for life. She sees love and happiness all around and tries to spread some of that cheer in her own whimsical way. There is a little matchmaking thrown in too for good measure though Jana Bibi’s own love exploits don’t turn out too well.

You will not find any bad guys in this book – apart from of course the parrot kidnapper – but the anecdotes about the characters that are liberally peppered throughout the book hint at human frailties in a very gentle way.  Jana Bibi is more than just a fortune teller but like a narrator who offers wisdom, hope and spreads good cheer among her fellow townspeople.

While the book is immensely enjoyable there were a couple of flaws, particularly on the plot front. One, the plot line (that of the parrot’s kidnapping) hasn’t been given enough weightage.  The author could have added a bit more intrigue and excitement by focusing on this angle. Two, the author missed an opportunity to develop the Love Potion angle and ground it to the story plot.

The book is reminiscent of the charming stories of Ruskin Bond and the fable-like feel of RK Narayan’s fabulous Swami and Friends which was a popular television serial too. In fact, given the huge cast of characters, Jana Bibi and her exploits would make for a wonderful television series. The book too has an episodic feel to it with each chapter being sub-divided into shorter anecdotes. It is the perfect book to lift your spirits, make you smile and feel nostalgic about a gentler way of life.

There is an earlier book in this series titled Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes and it would be great to read more about Jana Bibi’s exploits in Hamara Nagar. And nothing could be more delightful if the author ramped up the mystery/ intrigue angle in any of her forthcoming books in this series.

Title: Love Potion No. 10 – A Jana Bibi Adventure
Author: Betsy Woodman
Publisher/ Imprint: Random House IndiaVintage Books
Pages: 302
Genre: Fiction/ Drama
Rating: 3 of 5
Reviewed for: Publisher

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