There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Sold Daughter

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu, Nepal
In Sold, American author Patricia McCormick's coming-of-age novel, the harsh reality of life in a mountain village in Nepal is presented in stark vignettes. The story of Lakshmi, a girl in the village of Goldhunga, narrated in first person, is deceptively simple yet very poignant.
A graduate of journalism from Columbia University, Patricia embarked on a research of Nepali girls' trafficking into India (some estimate says 12,000 of them are trafficked to India every year), through a grant by New York Foundation for Arts. The result was a heart-wrenching story of a girl, mired in poverty, sold into prostitution in an Indian brothel. The characters are thinly veiled real life people.
The 269-page novel, which was a finalist for the US National Book Award 2006, depicts the tragic life of women and girls in rural Nepal where a cruel combination of illiteracy, poverty, superstition and backwardness force them to survive in very tough circumstances.

Flipping through the pages of Sold, I was reminded of Sandra Cisneros, the Latino author of The House on Mango Street. In several vignettes, Cisneros weaves the stories of Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl growing up in the United States. The only thing common in these two novels is the method of storytelling. Unlike Esperanza's, Lakshmi's world is that of deprivation, abject poverty and hardship.

However, a vignette titled “Difference between a Son and a Daughter” can be likened to the one in The House on Mango Street: “Boys and girls live in two different universes.” In Nepal too, during childhood, a son is pampered while a daughter has to follow strict rules in the patriarchal setting. In the story, it emerges that the difference is stark: “A son will always be a son, they say. But a girl is like a goat. Good as long as she gives you milk and butter. But not worth crying over when its time to make a stew.”

Some of the pieces are as short as 3-4 lines; they can be read like poetry. There are white spaces here and there in the book. The author has remarked that the empty spaces are meant to play with the reader's imagination.

In the vignette titled “Maybe”, the mother and daughter indulge in a luxury. It turns out to be a cigarette her mother has hidden for the rainy days. But the euphoria soon ends when the incessant monsoon rain destroys their mud house, rendering them hapless and helpless. Lakshmi's irresponsible stepfather sells her to a strange city woman for eight hundred rupees. Gullible Lakshmi, only 13 at the time, is deceived by everyone: she was thinking all along that she was going to work as a housemaid in the city.

After crossing the border and ending up in a brothel probably in Calcutta, she undergoes inhuman torture at the hands of Mumtaz to whom the so-called uncle-husband (she was instructed to call the trafficker her husband in the Indo-Nepal border in order to deceive the police) sells her to. Before that there are layers of transaction that show a complex web of trafficking. She ends up in a jail-like brothel ironically named Happiness House.

The girls in the brothel, ranging from a 10-year-old to middle aged women, are forced to have sex with strangers. They are caught in an endless cycle of threats. At times the hell-like atmosphere is lightened up with small pleasures. After all, once you are familiar with the surroundings, you grow used to it. Lakshmi meets a boy named Harish with a David Beckham haircut who teaches her some English words. There are characters like Shilpa who loves movies, and Monica who is friendly with her clients. They learn things clandestinely and hide their memorabilia.
When Pushpa, a fellow inmate falls sick, Mumtaz says, “If you don't get out of the bed and see customers today, you are on the street.” The brothel owner's cruelty knows no bounds. Pushpa begs not be thrown out. Mumtaz demands that she sell her daughter. She thunders: “In a few years, when she is old enough, I can make a lot of money with her.”
A vivid scene of police raid in the Happiness House reminded me of a documentary I watched on BBC a few years ago. In it, underage girls were shown emerging from a cave-like room. When tipped off about police raid, Lakshmi and other underage girls are kept in a structure where it's difficult even to breathe.

The story ends as Lakshmi is waiting for a kind-hearted American who promises her to rescue from the hell-hole. In the denouement, Mumtaz is already nabbed by the police but Lakshmi's fate is left ambiguous. The novel poses a question on its beautiful yellow cover: Can she ever be free? The answer probably is no because the cross-border trafficking still goes on unabated.

The review was first published in The Kathmandu Post

Friday, August 20, 2010

Monsoon Wedding

By Ananya Mukherjee
Tumse sadiyon ki wafayon ka koi naata thha..
Tumse milne ki lakeeren thii mere haathhon mein….

(I was bound to thee since eternity, it was designed on my lines of destiny)

This anecdote has been conceived, constructed and cultivated against the backdrop of a synthetic dream. The date on the calendar refers to a dawn in August in the mid-90s. The location is an up-market apartment on Park Street, Kolkata, India.

This location is special to me for more reasons than one. It is in this little laboratory of freedom that I have learned some of life’s greatest tips to existence. I look at them as my take-away scraps of wisdom from realties’ workshops. It is here that I have discovered how failed experiments could be translated to meaningful experiences. I have also understood that mistakes could be interpreted as lessons learnt and giving in to irresistible temptations would only mean that I shall have no regrets as I moved on in life. Unlike any other tutor, this third floor apartment right in the heart of the city has taught me to live, to win and to love without restrictions. So, without further ado, I shall take you by the hand and lead you to where my story unfolds…
A light rain screens through the open French windows spraying droplets of restless dreams on my face and hair. It’s too early to wake up and start the day, and in this blissful moment of semi-conscious wakefulness, I have neither the intent nor vigor to pull myself out of bed. Turning my face away from the window, I see your otherwise restless countenance arrested by a deep and peaceful sleep now. There’s no mark of the frivolous recklessness that characterizes your disposition at all other times that I have seen you. Instead, with a streak of that wet morning light gently caressing your face, your eyes closed and a fading smile still tucked somewhere in your pursed lips, you lay in a quiet stupor like a hermit who has found salvation in his trance.
My heart melts at the sight and I am overpowered by an unassuming desire to protect you thus, undisturbed by the waking realities, untouched by any malice that the day might bring upon you. I want this moment to linger a little longer, this comfort of sharing silence to prevail forever. As if somewhat reading my mind, you retaliate to my notion of an invasive silence between you and I. Even in your serene respite, you turn your face towards me, pulling me closer and burying your nose in my hair, whispering a muffled “Good morning, Sunshine”. The lull of your voice fills in the air, my dewy-eyed endearments get submerged in a few ‘meaningless somethings’ that follow. With eyes half closed and senses half awake, we lay interwoven in each other’s arms, welcoming the start of a new dawn.
In this red-tiled third floor apartment in one of Kolkata’s plushest neighborhoods, we are locked in a sense of oneness, intimacy, security and comfort of having found each other. It is not just the realization of having discovered ourselves individually in that ‘search’; we are wrapped up in a strong perception of belonging to each other completely—mind, body and soul.

The idleness of our prolonged love-making transcends to a more relaxing moment of quiet togetherness. Leaning your bare back against the wall, still holding me against you, you pull out a stick from a box of cigarettes on the bedside table. The clink of your Zippo rings sharply into my ears, the smell of tobacco fills my nostrils. Somewhat unused to the odor, it stimulates a sense of hunger in me. Planting a quick wet kiss on your lips, I turn and ask, “I need to eat something. Are you hungry?”

Do I wait for an answer to a question so redundant? If I am hungry so must you be. By the next few minutes, tripping on rosy wings, gathering the white cotton long sleeved kurta (an XXL that I supposedly ‘borrowed” from my Dad’s closet and never returned) around me, I scurry towards the kitchen door. A ray of light trickles through the half- smoked glasses, making curious patterns on the red mosaic floor—in circles, some full and few broken, like a child learning to write an “O” in a kindergarten school and making several attempts at it till he masters the art.
Conscious of being watched, I finish my chores in the kitchen. All the while, I find myself recollecting scraps from last evening that we spent at Bar-B-Que, reliving the conversation over dinner, revisiting each confession we made to each other and reassuring myself of the commitment we now share. In a flashback of happy sequences, I see myself rewinding to the days when we first met each other, on a beautiful spring afternoon many years back as kids. Little did we know that a chance meeting on a sprawling school campus in eastern India, a decade back would leave such a lasting impression on either of you or me.
When destiny had planned our first meeting, I was an effervescent ten-year-old prancing around in shorts and sneakers and you were a lonely 12-year-old kid who drew cartoons when you were sad. I was the uptown metropolitan girl visiting her mother’s alma-mater while you were a local resident. Our mothers were contemporaries in college and only an unrehearsed meeting had brought our lives together. That spring afternoon, you were tasked with the duty of showing me around Tagore’s land. I was more than excited to have such a guide.
Though with very few words said, you had taken the task with utmost sincerity, and escorted me to all the tourist ‘must see’ locations throughout the day. By noon, our little feet were tired. When we finally reached a clearing by the river Kopai, it was late afternoon. I was hungry and somewhat tired of the silence that prevailed. I had brought out a ham sandwich from my little box and offered you a bite. You had taken it from me, thanked me and begun sketching again….leaving me to wonder if you didn’t like me, if you had even noticed my presence.

An hour had passed by and neither you nor I had spoken. I played with the grass, digging the earth with my nails….making circles with the dried twigs and thinking what life in a sleepy place like that could be like. You seemed unperturbed by my presence. Evening was setting in and we had decided to walk homewards. The path was smeared in a palette of crimson, scarlet and flaming bloom, heralding the season of life in a riot of colours. "I wish I had that flaming red branch of Palash, that one that is so full of flowers that you can hardly see the leaves, right there at the top," I had said with a childlike obstinacy, not hoping in the least I would be heard and walked in silence towards the guest house. You had escorted me till the wooden gate, said ‘goodnight’ and walked away. My ‘thank you’ had faded out in the darkness of the evening.

I remember I was leaving homewards the next morning, back to the confines of an urban world, when I had found something on my car seat. It was a sketch of a little girl with curly hair falling across her face, smiling at a leaf of grass. Strewn on it was a handful of Palash.
Years passed by, we drifted yet memory of that one beautiful moment of togetherness amidst the red earth, the blue skies, the swaying Shimul, Palash and Sonajhuris, the quiet tranquility of the Khowai and the serene yet rhythmic flow of the Kopai… and amidst all of it, the memory of you had remained etched on my being. I smile to myself as I think how I had even given that rendezvous a name. In one of my old journals, in immature cursive writing, I had named it “My Spring Sonata”. And I hear myself hum…
“Aapke naam se taabinda hai unwaan e hayaat
Varnaa kucch baat nahin thhi mere afsane mein…”
(Thy name highlights the headlines of my biography
(If it were not for thee, my story would have had no meaning)
I have been out of your reach for a while now and you call out my name. Leaving the kitchen in a state of mess, I hurry back with some toasts and ham-omelettes and a pot of green tea. Your eyes follow me from the door and from the tilt of your head I can see an expression of enveloping contentment written all over your visage. And then you smile….
The moment freezes here!
We share a pause in time over this half a smile; and while the smell of last night’s romantic remembrance overflows and merges in a somewhat subtler and deeper sense of intimacy, of trust through doubts, friendship in experiments and escapades, and togetherness in glory and gloom….unawares of any effort, on this moist and beautiful dawn, we are able to find the essence of our togetherness and coin a new word—‘us’!
Yes, if marriage is a state of mind, it is our monsoon wedding!

Let There Be Light

By Prodipto Roy
Kolkata, India

What's She Thinking??

By Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma
Raipur, India
All men better take a note of this one -- a guide to a woman's mind!!

1. We are often found demanding attention. But that does not mean we cannot survive without it. It’s you guys who cannot survive without our demands.
2. When we say NO it simply means one thing. Why make a fuss about understanding what’s behind? We don't expect you to be that smart.

3. We can be super emotional, but when time comes, it’s us who can bear the emotions of the whole world without making a hue or cry about it. So, the next time your girl cries, please shut up. That will work better.

4. We love to shop. Yes, we do. And we don't take you along only to hear you nag about our extensive shopping. If you cannot be of any help, simply decline our offer. We have enough of guys to give us company.

5. Never say "It’s difficult to understand a girl". Love us and the understanding part will definitely be taken care of.

6. When in doubt about our mental state, ask us about it. We will feel cared. Don't just assume that we are not okay. Talking to us can actually solve the issue.

7. We can be extremely forgiving. Much more than you can imagine. But do not take us for granted. We surely know how to punish as well. Don't forget that. :)
8.Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend. But you are. So the next time you make such a remark, be sure of bidding a goodbye to your girl. She can find a friend in somebody else too.
9. We need you to survive. And we DO NOT want to be pampered with your money. We only need love. I hope that isn't such a costly commodity, right?

P.S There is so much said and done about girls being too difficult to handle. But it is not that difficult. Love us truly, we will bring the world to your feet.

P.P.S For all those who disagree, we are capable of making life hell for you. Not that we will, but why test us? ;)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Grey...Matters?

By Anindita Baidya
Anand, India

.....not sure, though. I have heard from somewhere that the human mind has shades of white and grey. But how much does it matter? Let me share an experience...
 That evening I was having coffee with Hrishabh, my close buddy. He was my colleague but we worked at different locations. On tour to our office for a meeting, Hrishabh and I had decided to catch up after office hours and so hit our favourite joint ‘Aroma’ for coffee and chat.
 Curious that I was, one of the first questions were, “When are you and Shelly getting married, Hrishabh?”. And then there was a pause, a loaded silence between us. Hrishabh cleared his throat and clarified, “We are not marrying, buddy!”. That was the most shocking statement I had heard. Not marrying? Hrishabh and Shelly not marrying?
 Hrishabh and Shelly, both my colleagues, were the perfect couple, we thought. We vouched by them. How could, anything, for Heaven’s sake, go wrong between these two? For as much as I knew, Shelly was a perfect person. Shelly was a strong woman, Shelly was the University topper, Shelly was rewarded the best employee, Shelly was the one everyone dreamt of wooing. Shelly was a disciplinarian, Shelly was the greatest cook we knew, Shelly was an icon on housekeeping skills, Shelly was this, Shelly was that, Shelly was perfect.
 “But…Hrishabh, Shelly is perfect…!” I still had not regained my senses after hearing the cruel truth.
 “Yes, buddy, Shelly is perfect. She is too perfect” and the river had started flowing and I listened, “Buddy, she is too perfect to be true, I am not. She is pristine, white, she is angelic, I am a poor human. She is like a banyan tree, I am a small shrub growing by her roots. Buddy, I can no more behold the blue sky, the grey clouds. She covers me. I need my air and sunshine….”
 Those were his words and after that I did not have any! We said those ‘Goodnight’ and ‘God Bless’ and left for the day with Hrishabh’s last emphatic words, “I cannot partner her!” I have met him a number of times after that but have not hinted on the subject again.
 I met Shelly just three months after they had parted. In full smiles and glow in her eyes during the meeting, she seemed to be in full control when she was introduced to us as our new Regional Manager. I did not fail to see the upsurge of pain which she hid deep within her heart. I was her friend after all!
 Hrishabh had his turn to explain but what about Shelly? The lady with very few words never revealed to me what she felt, never narrated her feelings of betrayal, hurt, bitterness. She has not sketched any philosophical contour between the ‘heavenly perfect’ or ‘humanly faltering’. She is just like that, perfect, pristine, angelic! Long ago, I had written these following words, keeping Shelly in my mind:
Inn Deewaaron par
Unn Kathgharon par
 Aasmaan kee oonchaayee par
Saagar ke darpan par
 Rakha apne aks ko
Tolaa apne hunar ko
 Hoon har kamzori se pare
To aye aasmaan
Itni duaa de do
 Main insaan banana chaahtee hoo
Mujhmein kuch khaamiyaan de do!!

The Smile

By Hayden Brame
St Helens, Oregon, USA

I envy you
Your fame
And the speculation
Surrounding your name
I envy
Your beauty
So easily portrayed
And the portrait
In its rarity

I do not envy
Your sad sad eyes
Or the secrets
Abounding behind them
I don't envy you
Your tragic life
That made you lose
The ability to smile
I don't envy you
The master behind the artwork
That knew now
What could pull a grin
Out of the recesses
Of your despairing face

I envy your notorious fame
But not the story
Behind the smile.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Let My Country Awake

By Mithu Chakraborty

In the Black Hole

By Arijit Das
Kolkata, India

I had no idea how long I had been unconscious. I felt sick and weary. My body ached as though every bone had been crushed. I looked around myself. It was dark all around. The darkness felt strange - it was blacker than pitch! It was cold. It was quiet. And it was scary.
I desperately wanted to run out of this darkness. Even in this eternal silence I tried hard to pick up the faintest of the sound that would lead me out of here. And yes, I did hear something. It was a soft thumbing sound. But soon did I realize that it was the sound of own heart. It was pumping faster than usual. I felt my pulse racing.
I tried remembering the events that had brought me here. Could recollect nothing. I tried to calm down. I spread out my arms in the darkness to feel for objects around me. There wasn't anything or any obstacle around. I decided to walk ahead cautiously. So before taking every step, first I would feel for objects around me with my hands. If its all clear then I would stand on one foot while feeling the ground around me with the other.
As I was about to take my first step did I realize something. And I froze. For I had just discovered something that made me doubt if I was still alive. When I tried to feel the ground around me did I realize that I had been floating in this eternal darkness. 


By Aishwarya Rajamani
Bangalore, India

Neurons, they sift the specs of memory
Dust away the new, map out a landscape,
Of all the scrap pressed under pressure
Like the piles of brown records from office.
Time-line equals the life-span
And all that is in between pop up
Waiting to be caught and clipped to the roll.

Wheels of roll exhausted,
yet there's more to be clipped and played.
Scrap that has been snipped and squared,
fit into others like a giant,complex jigsaw.

Oh! What a mess.
Oh! What can be made out of rusted, stale junk?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


By Arindam Guptaray
Kolkata, India

When we were young we clearly knew who our friends were. If I ask my daughter who her good friends are, she would give me a list of at least 5 friends in the descending order of likeness. I think the clear-cut demarcation between friends and acquaintances lasts till you graduate from college. I can clearly list my friends and enemies from college. I was with them at every social and cultural event.  We would walk with our arms around each other or a hand on a shoulder, an action that only meant we were Homo Sapiens and nothing else. But as we grew older, the definition of friend and acquaintance become grey. Anyone whom we met became our friend. Colleagues from work, the next door neighbor, the dentist, son’s classmates’ moms and even the cute girl at the corner grocery store were all friends. They might not invite you to their New Year’s Eve party or their own wedding but they were still friends. Friends always remain as friends unless they do something really bad like stealing your boyfriend or puking in your bathroom and using your new Ralph Lauren towel to wipe it.
The dynamics of friendship have remained the same from the days of Adam till the end of the twentieth century. There were minor changes here and there. Here’s an example: In the early times it was your prized fig leaf whose desecration by a fellow friend caused you to declare him as someone who wasn’t a friend as opposed to the towel custom in the twentieth century. When you liked a girl you would ask her for her cave number, pigeon number or phone number based on the century of your existence.
With the arrival of the Internet, people thought about toying with the idea of friendship but none were bold enough to add the F word to their software. During the IRC days, you could follow someone (the same concept now used by Twitter), so that if that person was online, you were notified. Yahoo called it Contacts, a definition which screamed out the words “No emotions please!”.  It took a maverick like Google to start calling contacts as friends. Still, the implications were very limited. Based on the census of 2002, only .5% of potential daters exchanged gmail ids, the rest opted for phone numbers.
With the advent of Facebook we went back to the kindergarten days, of clearly defining who our friends are. Thanks to some innovative programs we can also classify them based on their date worthiness, sexiness, wealth and appetite. It was a way to tell the world, “Look how many friends I have, you little anti-socialite!” It only took a few clicks (and sometimes major convincing) to add friends, but along with that came the new word in the English dictionary “Unfriend” (a word that Office 2007 still thinks is spelt incorrectly). You can Unfriend someone with just one click. The list of friends became evidence that can be submitted to the court of law. You are an accomplice to a bank heist? Just prove that you unfriended the mastermind before the robbery happened and go scot free.  An overzealous husband has put a gun to your head for sleeping with his wife? Don’t worry just show him that you unfriended her 5 days before the day he saw you coming out of his bedroom. Who will make love to a person who Unfriended you? Even Othello would understand that.
The problem with the digital definition of “Friends” was that people would unfriend you for trivial reasons.  The paperwork involved in unfriending someone in the pre-Facebook era was daunting enough for someone not to go through it. But now it is instant and easy. People unfriend their friends for trivial reasons. Don’t like the color of the shirt he is wearing? Unfriend him. Her grammar sucks? Unfriend her.  She is a feminist? Unfriend her. He is a MCP? Unfriend him.
I had my fair share of being unfriended by ex-friends.  One ex friend did not like my comment “You are looking beautiful in this picture”. She thought it was too demeaning. How can you judge beauty? The strange part is when asked why she unfriended me, she refused to divulge the reason. The first answer was, “It’s not you but it’s me”. Then she said, “Actually I was arranging my friends in alphabetical order and did not know where to put you!” I think she thought I was a rockstar and my name might be just a symbol like the “artist who was formerly called Prince”. (I am sure this is the reason why Prince changed his name back to Prince). I had to pay a private investigator a huge fortune to find out the real reason.
I suffer from OCD as far as accepting or rejecting friends. If I don’t accept or reject someone within five minutes of the request, I start gasping for oxygen, my skin dries up, I get a terrible headache along with other symptoms that are best left undocumented. Once my wife left her Facebook session open with the screen that had the dialog box open regarding a friend request. I accepted it. Someone on my friend list did not like it. It seemed my wife’s new friend had bought the same sari as my ex-friend. I was unaware of the rule that you can only have friends with mutually exclusive choice of saris.
I wanted to write this article to wish all my friends a happy friendship day. As a protest against Hallmark I want to celebrate it on a day not designated by Hallmark. (An act that will result in being unfriended by all the Hallmark employees on my list). So here it is….
“Wishing you a happy fri………….”! Hey! Wait a minute. How come I have one friend less today than I did yesterday?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mrs stands for Mistress????

By Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma
Raipur, India

By now, everyone who knows me, is well aware that I hate wrong usage of English Grammar. What I hate more are the people who do it confidently.

Recently, I went for a regular check-up to my endocrinologist. While waiting for my turn to come, I was sent to the assistant doctor/intern who usually does the basics, like check the BP, weight, symptoms and put them down on the prescription sheet. Here is an excerpt from the conversation with this certain lady, the assistant, which I guarantee shall leave you in splits:

[Note: I shall refer to the assistant as Ass, since that is what she ends up being!]

Ass: Naam?
Me: Mrs Samarpita Sharma, file par likha hai
Ass: Age?
Me: 30
Ass: Aap married ho? [looking very very doubtful]
Me: Err...haan
Ass: Fir aapne Mis’ess kyun bola? aap toh mistress hain.
Me: Uhh...nahin Mrs ko Mis’ess bolte hain. Mistress is an offensive word.
Ass: aapko english nahin aati theek se. aap check kar lena!
Me: It is a contraction of Mistress, but when we refer to Mrs, it is for Mis'ess and not the other offensive word you just used.
Ass: Aap galat bol rahe ho. Mrs ko mistress hi bolte hain.

I laugh and leave it at that, deciding I shall take up this offensive [not as much coz she referred to me as mistress, but more coz i had to interact with her] with my doctor whom I know very well. When informed about this funny incident, he was flabbergasted...but in a country with so many dialects and regional languages, it IS very difficult to find qualified people who have the basic knowledge of the English language.

You may ask, so what's the big deal? English isn't even our national language!! Ho-hum! But it's used more in any profession, compared to any other regional language! Deal with it!!

[To those who are still ignorant of facts:
“Mrs” originated as a contraction of the honorific “Mistress”, the feminine of “Mister” or “Master”, which was originally applied to both married and unmarried women. The split into “Mrs” for married women from “Ms” and “Miss” began during the 17th century.]

Seasons of Flight

By Abdullah Khan
New Delhi, India

Seasons of Flight is an account of a journey undertaken by Prema from a scenic Nepali village to a culturally and socially multi-hued metropolis in the U.S. The journey in this case is not only the geographical distance, but also the mental and the cultural one.
When Prema's name is drawn in a diversity lottery for green cards, she decides to leave her village, a caring lover, an absent sister who has joined a Maoist group, an old father and memories of her long dead mother for a place where she will be a complete stranger.
She arrives in the U.S. and finds that things are not as she imagined them to be. And so begins her struggle to survive and find her place in this totally different and new milieu.
Confused, she is never being sure about what she is doing. But one thing she is sure about is that she is not going back. As she drifts from one place to another, physically and psychologically, she meets people with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and tries to understand the “American way of life”.
Unlike most protagonists of novels by non-resident South Asian authors, she does not mourn the loss of her homeland nor does she regret her decision. On the contrary, she gets rid of the cultural baggage of her home country and adopts the new social mores of her adopted country.

Sexual awakening
She doesn't think twice while having affairs, including one-night stands, with various American men. When Luis, an affable half-Latino, comes into her life, she is strongly attracted to him. She decides to move in with him. Strangely, her Nepali friends don't see anything wrong with her move. Back home, the same people would have branded her ‘a whore' for the same act.
This makes it clear that parameters of morality are not static in nature and changes as we move across cultures and societies.
Though the story mostly follows the protagonist in Los Angeles, we constantly hear echoes of the war in Nepal. The conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali military has been interpolated so discreetly that it doesn't disturb the narrative of Prema's journey. This is what gives this novel, which is largely apolitical, a slightly political angle but the author stays on the fence, refusing to take sides.
Prema's sexual awakening is dealt with in a forthright, but delicate, manner. The sex scenes are direct and devoid of pretension, without shades of vulgarity or obscenity. This is something few writers can accomplish. This is a delightful read about self-discovery, sexual awakening and search for an identity in a foreign land. Lucidly written, the book also gives new insight into an immigrant life in America.
After finishing this book, I felt guilty about missing Manjushree's debut novel The Tutor of History. Now, I will certainly reach out for that.

This review was first published in the Hindu

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Day of Introspection

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

Not a single tricolor anywhere in my line of vision today. No strains of Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana, no live coverage of the PM's speech on television.. and yet..for so many Indians like me who are away from their country.. it is a day to retrospect. Got an email this morning.. one of those fun spams that you get about the facts and figures on India and how it should make you proud that the 3rd richest man is an Indian and we came up with the zero and were able to perform surgery ages before any one else.
 Yes, emails like that do make me proud as it should any other Indian.. but being an Indian makes me the proudest... what does that mean to me? That is a good question ? what does it mean to people in our generation when they say that.. we have only read about the Indian struggle for independance in our history books, seen Aamir Khan in Lagaan and Ajay Devgan as Bhagat Singh and gotten goosebumps.. we have only watched LOC Kargill and cried at a sentimental song... do we know what it really means to be an Indian.. ??
 What does India encompass in those five letters.... a civilization, a way of live, a diverse culture, traditions, festivals, ... no to me.. it epitomizes LOVE.. in the highest sense of the term...
 More practical individuals than myself will probably scoff at this analogy, but somewhere behind the statistics and economics of our country, there is more. I am not blind to the issues of population, poverty and politics, but just for today leave that aside and look around you...
 Take a snapshot of the country, beautiful children with dirty ragged faces but eyes that shine with stars.. old wrinkles that hide years of experience and affection, beautiful olive skin tones that are as sensitive as they are sensuous to a foreigner, vast open fields, scorching deserts, bustling metros.. and underneath it all a love that binds so many differing communities and denominations together.. Did I forget Godhra, Ayodhya ? No I didn't , but on this day.. Doesn’t it make more sense to talk about what just happened at Mumbai with the rains and how the spirit of India came alive in the way people helped each other out ? Why don't we talk about that ?
 Why don't we talk about the various charitable institutions and hospitals that work tirelessly for the common man, where it doesn't matter what "insurance" we are on.. no one is left without some kind of basic care ? why don't we talk about the simple tradition of making sure when we have a guest., we always have something to offer them ?, why don't we talk about NRIs who have gone home and set up schools, hospitals and other institutions ?
 Yes, I am romantic in my vision of my country and to me that works, not because I am miles away from it and rose tinted glasses work better from a distance, but because I truly believe in that my country epitomizes the mother's love for a child, the purest and the most selfless form of love - one that is unconditional and all giving..
 I wish wonderful things for my country, for my people and hope that in some small way I will be able to cry and laugh with them and carry this nation proudly in my heart, mind and soul no matter where I am on God's wonderful green earth....

Written on I-day, 2005.