Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Navtej Sarna's We Weren't Lovers Like That

A couple of words can pretty much sum up this book: pathetically boring. Got this book at the Crossword bookstore in the famous InOrbit mall in Malad (W), Mumbai. I am a big fan of fiction from the Indian subcontinent, so I make it a point to pick up some dude I haven't heard of before. Sarna disappoints in his debut novel.

The book's about Aftab, a 40-year-old Delhiite, whose wife left him for his friend, taking with him their 10-year-old son. So Aftab slowly descends into an abyss of self-pity, taking us with him every agonizing step of the way. He drinks, of course, and bitches about everybody: his boss, his secretary, his friends and their wives, and of course, his wife and friend. Thrown in are insights he gains about himself, his weaknesses. We come to know what makes Aftab tick. Then, he begins his just as agonizing rise to redemption.

The problem is that the reader just doesn't care. Sarna fails to engage the reader's sympathy for Aftab, making his sorry plight, his self-analysis and epiphanies, his attempt to start over with his first love, just one terrible exercise in futility. And, oh, the ending is so Hindi movie, Sarna must have been inspired. But at least the reader is glad the tragedy is over.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Diamond In My Sky

Raina turned 2 on May 9, and to mark this occasion, I'd like to talk a little bit about my daughter (I shall strive not to gush). If there were one word I had to use to describe Raina, I would say she's radiant. She radiates positivity and good will. She talks pretty nonstop--she's been talking in sentences since she was 18 months--and I think one big reason for that is her love of song. She loves to sing and be sung to. The first phrase of song she learned to say at about 15 months is "like a diamond in the sky."

I remember during the first tough 6 weeks after she was born, she would cry and cry and the only way I could get her to stop was by singing pretty continuously from about 10 p.m. till about midnight. If I'd make the mistake of clearing my by-then hoarse throat, the wailing would start. I sang to her every song I knew--nursery rhymes in English, Hindi film songs, even a couple of Marathi ones I'd learned in school and -- wonder of wonders! -- still remembered. The language didn't seem to matter to her, it was all Greek to her anyway, as long as I sung away.

As she grew to 6 months, I'd play CDs of Sanskrit shlokas and nursery rhymes while she was in her high chair. I ended up learning a few shlokas myself. Now, she can say the Gayatri mantra out loud -- an attribute that earned her quite a few encores in India. She thrives on the attention and has realized pretty quick that her singing, her toothy smile and her big brown eyes get her loads of that.

Out of all things that I love about her, I love best the way she laughs. She has a very infectious laugh that seems to come from the core of her being. She doesn't like being tickled, though, unless the doer of the deed is her daddy. She kisses with her mouth wide open, saliva dripping, but it's only a blessed few that get that privilege (the rest can count their blessings). But she blows kisses with abandon to all and sundry.

Like her mommy, she's crazy about books. There was a time when she would do nothing but sit in my lap and get me to read book after book after book until I was begging for mercy. If that isn't enough to convince you that she's a bookworm, the fact that she gets excited about a trip to the library should. Her current favorite toy is her tea set.

She loves the swings at the park. Every park visit starts with half-hour at the swings. It's the only time she's quiet, blessedly, blessedly quiet. Other than naptime and bedtime, of course. And oh yes, she'll go to bed only if Brownie The Dog, Teddy The Bear and most important of all, Simba The Lion, accompany her. She seems to love the color blue. She dances in circles.

I could probably go on and on about her, but I did promise not to gush. Happy 2, Raina!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Straddling worlds

I haven't written for a while because I am in India. And when I am in India, things go kinda crazy. Some of the craziness is just vacation related: schedules are upset, work is forgotten, you're meeting several people (here, you are never alone, and I mean never). But some of the craziness is literally in your head. India can mess up your head. You see, I am a dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka, na ghat ka. Which translates to, I am an NRI, a non-resident Indian.

Being a dhobi ka kutta (literal translation: the laundryman's dog) means that you are always mentally straddling at least two worlds in your head. In my case, it's three: my American world, my Bandra world and my Borivali world. The first world is self-explanatory -- I live in the U.S. and have been doing so since 1995 (legally, I may add). The second world -- my Bandra world -- is where I grew up. Bandra is a suburb in Mumbai, my hometown. And I was a true suburban kid: shopping at Linking Road, eating chaat at Elco, strolling in Jogger's Park in Carter Road, cycling in Bandstand, stuffing my face at Khar Gymkhana. That was the world I left behind when I left for the U.S. to pursue a degree in journalism. And that's the world of my parents.

The third world -- my Borivali world -- is the world I visit most often when I am in Mumbai. Borivali is where my in-laws now live, having moved here from Khar (which is a suburb right next to Bandra). On a good day, it takes 45 minutes to drive to Bandra from Borivali; on a bad day, it can take hours. Mentally, it takes me several leaps to function in either world.

Both places are home to me, I am loved in both, but I am a different person in either place. For example, let's take alcohol and meat consumption: none in Borivali, oui oui in Bandra. Language: Hindi in Borivali, English in Bandra. Clothes: salwar kameezes and jeans in Borivali, shorts and skirts in Bandra. In an attempt to occasionally bridge both worlds, I can get quite daring: This time, I actually wore capris in Borivali and spoke Hindi in Bandra.

Maybe one day, my Mumbai worlds will conjoin -- or collide -- leaving just one world, just one me behind. Until then, it's chaos as usual.