Yesterday I woke up to the news that an aunt had passed away. She had been in an accident and did not survive. There had been a few messages before that saying she was in critical condition but I did not see them as I was asleep. I woke up to the finality of death.
I wasn’t particularly close to this aunt. She was my mother’s cousin so not in the first circle of aunts. But the whole day I found myself tearing up. When my mum’s brother died I did not feel this much sadness, but that may be because he was ill for a long time. This was sudden. Maybe that accounts for my (over)reaction. I have experienced the sudden death of closer family members/friends and the seeming randomness of death does not amaze me anymore.
But the idea of not seeing someone who was so alive does. Although when I went to India I never planned specifically to see this aunt, I always ended up meeting her at some family gathering. The idea that she will no longer be present seems wrong somehow. This is the strange thing about death, that even after the event, you expect things to go back to normal and the person to pop up as usual. Acceptance of the finality of it takes time because at the moment it is unreal.
I believe that what really triggered my emotions was the idea that I could lose my own mother in a similar way. I know my parents will die eventually. But not tomorrow, not anytime in the near future. I refuse this possibility. And this death made it real.
I try to imagine the grief of my cousins who, like me, live away from home and would find themselves helpless when the news came. I cannot quite comprehend what it would be like to receive that phone call.
This aunt was extremely helpful to my mother who struggles to look after my now 103 year old grandmother. She would visit my grandmother and my grandmother’s face would light up. She was always at the other end of the phone line when my mom needed medical advice. This is a practical loss as well as an emotional one.
My clearest memory of this aunt: I had developed a serious ear infection on a trip to India, there was blood and pus coming out of my ear, and yet I needed to travel. Reluctantly, our family doctor gave me a pile of medication to help avert the possibility of my eardrum bursting on the flight back. My mum called this aunt, who is a pathologist and familiar with all things medical. She explained to me very calmly and clearly in exactly what order I should take the medicines so that all the fluid in my ear dried up. It was the most sensible and clear delivery of medical advice I have received ever. I still remember her voice on the phone before I take a flight and stock up on exactly those medicines.
Carter Road Beach, Bandra
- Slipped off to India for a friend’s wedding. It was to the be reunion of our group of girls after Bali fell through last year. One got pregnant and bailed and another got really ill and almost bailed but in the end we were six ladies in Goa including the bride (not me, the one getting married).
- Landed in Mumbai with a slight tummy upset. Okay, I had had too much wine at dinner the previous evening, but I swear there was something wrong with the food on the Jet Airways flight in. That airline is really degenerating in quality. The food used to be stellar; now, even I, certified crazy “airline-food-lover” that I am, getting give it a pass. Moreover, the reason Cathay Pacific was my last choice on a flight to India (cost factors being almost equal) was the racist unpleasantness of their staff on the flight. Now it seems like Jet Airway’s hostesses are doing the same thing. I have never seen such grumps serving me on an Indian airline.
- Five flights must have landed at the same time because the immigration queue was packed. I noticed a strange phenomenon: white people cutting the line. I told off one lady, only to have her stand right behind me and the Indian people let her. Then another first-world privileged soul comes up and asks if there’s a separate line for British passport holders, chats and ends up standing right there. Then another white couple come and start talking to the original queue jumper, and tried to pretend that they were with her (they weren’t). They switched to French, and I was on the verge of telling them off in that language when the Indians behind the original queue jumper did. I watched the room and all over were white people queue jumping while looking clueless. The Indians who let the original queue jumper in were talking to the “separate British line” woman about how Indians never stand in queues except in foreign countries. Hello, the room was chaotic because there wasn’t an immigration staff around to organize things but by and large the Indians were queuing up. I wanted to scream.
- Someone left a bag unattended in the line. Two days after Brussels, we all moved away from it. Wanted to call security, but there was no one in sight. Eventually, someone claimed the bag. The same thing happened on the way back with a box of mangoes. This time a foreigner in the line called out asking who the box belonged to and it was claimed by its sheepish owner.
- I am beginning to learn how to do Indian Standard/Stretchable Time. I arrive ten minutes late for everything. Usually that means I’m on time for the other person or waiting only a further ten minutes. I am managing not to stress about being late.
- Before I left, at dinner with friends in Hong Kong, a male friend mentioned that young people in Hong Kong don’t have enough money to buy their own home and so each lives with their own parents and they meet in the week. My girlfriend and I looked at each other and said this would be a very good arrangement. Later, discussing this with the girls in Goa, one said she had actually proposed this arrangement when she got married. It solves the problem of which house parents should move into when they get old, apart from just leaving one in one’s comfort zone. Another friend said that she could never live with her parents. It was pointed out that my relationship with my parents was unusually cordial. By the end of this trip though I realised I could never live with my parents. Heh.
- Spent the first whole day doing stuff with my mom. We went to the spa together, where I was fully deforested and pedicured while mum got a much overdue facial. Then we went for lunch to Raj Bogh (the thali was too sweet for me though), then we shoe shopping on Linking Road, where we serendipitiously ran into one of my friends. I haven’t been shopping in the shoe shops there for years, as these days I prefer to just do everything in Shopper’s Stop, but there are some pretty good deals to be had in those shops (compared to Hong Kong prices). Whether the shoes hold up is another matter.
- In the evening, went with my dad to pick out a colour for his new car, and then met my cousin for tea at Birdsong Cafe in Ranvar. We giggled endlessly about the unbearable hipsterness of Bandra and whether bruschetta is pronounced brusketta or brushetta. My theory is if you pick one, someone at your table or the waiter will correct you and say the other.
- Next morning got my curls in order with a haircut. The heat got to me and I ruined it by tying it back in five minutes.
- I had limited time in Bombay and although I had severe FOMO, I did not meet friends when I was there. I visited my closest uncles and aunts, and I’m glad I did. It is tempting to skip out on the older folks, but there is something to be said for the affection that flows in these encounters.
- Every time I caught up with a cousin, I ending up spending more time than originally planned. Met my cousin after work, went for a drink to Otters’ Club and ended up chatting for two hours. Finally, finished up when the parents called to find out where I was.
- I did most of my shopping on Hill Road. It’s hot but honestly, those export surplus t-shirts are great and you don’t get that variety as well as quality anywhere else.
- The most charming encounter of my trip was when I walked into Happy Book Stall, a little bookstore on Hill Road that we used to go to as children. I ended up having a long chat with the owner, who it turns out knows some people from my building who are regular customers. He was also the kind of owner that actually reads the books in his shop and can talk about them, something that is quite rare nowadays. When he saw me lurking outside waiting for the Himalaya shop next door to open, he invited me in to sit in the air conditioning and wait. I ended up buying a very beautiful book of sketches of Bandra houses. He told me how the author of said book rudely turned him down when he requested a few books for his shop, but ended up bringing the books over himself. I feel like a heel ordering books from Flipkart on my trips home, and resolved to patronize his store more. It is hard surviving as an independent bookstore in this day and age when even chains like Crossword are struggling and filling their shops with stationary. I asked him how he does it, and he said, “Trust in God.”
I’m very into Christmas, but not into religion so much. My kids haven’t really been raised in the religion, initially due to us being lukewarm on the whole thing and then as a conscious choice. I intended to take them to church on Christmas Day since we were living with my parents, but then I was feeling too lazy, and then I got a look from my mum so I conceded, but then I fell sick so there was no way I could go, so I had to convince V to do the needful.
Getting Mimi into appropriate clothes was a nightmare. I had picked out a dress for her which she roundly rejected. Trying to convince her to wear the dress, I said, “It’s baby Jesus’s birthday. He’ll want you to wear a nice dress.”
Mimi: He won’t. He’s a naughty guy.
Grandma (who was getting dressed nearby): He’s not.Mimi: He is.
Grandma (tersely): He’s not!
Finally, Mimi was coaxed into a wrap dress. V walked her to church after the others had left. Mimi walks into church, looks into her dress and says loudly: “Look, my boobies!”
The sister to Sibear: Look, there’s Jesus.
Sibear: Where, where?Sister points to stature: There
Sibear: That’s not Jesus.
Sister: It is.
Sibear: It’s not. Jesus is a baby.
Sister: That’s him when he grew up.
Sibear: But why does he have long hair?
Sister: Some boys have long hair too.
Sibear (in a whisper): Why is his heart outside his body?
Sister is gobsmacked. Also, why did we never ask these questions when we were kids.
On the way out of church, V blessed Mimi with holy water from one of the fonts. Immediately she started shouting: “I want to drink it, I want to drink it!” V dragged her out. Mimi dragged him back in. Finally, she contented herself with dipping her hand in and smearing herself in the stuff.
This is not about me. It’s about my mom.
My mom visited us for 10 days. This was quite an achievement because my mom cares for her mother, my grandmother, who turned 100 in March and has been in rapid decline ever since her 99th birthday. Caring for an old person with the level of commitment my mom has put into it takes its toll and I felt that my mom urgently needed a holiday. One of her brothers had once vaguely mentioned that he would come to India to visit my grandmother every three months and the idea of my mom taking off during one of those stints took hold. When I went down for my gran’s birthday, I reminded this uncle of his offer and he immediately agreed to relieve my mom of her duties for a week or so, while my father agreed to shoulder the extra work of running the house in my mom’s absence. My mom managed to wrangle 10 days and landed up in Hong Kong.
I didn’t believe it would actually happen until she was there. A week before my grandmom had to be hospitalized when she took a turn for the worse. The doctors however felt there was no point doing invasive tests and just put her on the drip which seemed to revive her. I even looked into postponing my mom’s visit for a week but later realised that there was never going to be a great time for her to visit at this stage in my grandmother’s life.
I was all set to pick her up from the airport when both V and I came down with the flu, so she had to cab it herself which thankfully is not a big deal in Hong Kong though I know it always stresses her out. Within an hour of arriving, my mom said she could feel the stress of the months past melt off and was already fantasizing about her next trip.
Before grandma arrived, I think I laid it on too thick and whenever I asked Benji whether he wanted grandma to come, he said: “No!” But he went down with V to pick her up from the cab and was quite chatty. When mum entered, Mimi took one look at her and burst into tears. That’s my kids’ way of welcoming strangers, especially those who are not Chinese.
But within five minutes, they were both grandma’s greatest fans. “Where’s grandma?” they’d ask if she disappear for a minute. My mum spent a lot of time with them, even doing stuff like playing catch-n-cook which I’m too lazy to do. She has taken it upon herself to be the most indulgent grandma. So she rarely corrects them. She insists on giving them candy to my irritation (though she does restrict herself because of my disapprobation.) Every day she’d take them to the park, though it was hot and play ball or go hunting for snails. She let them comb her hair and they said she was “Princess Elsa” (they have now graduated to doing my hair, and OMG why didn’t I get them to do this before). She encouraged them to play in the rain and puddles and get soaking wet and then reprimanded me for not bringing enough changes of clothes! Heh. One day she was in splits playing a game with Benji that involved flinging pillows at each other. At one point, she threw a pillow at Mimi who didn’t react, which both mum and I found crazily funny, and she did it three times with us collapsing into laughter before Mimi reacted. V just looked on nonplussed.
That puddle is deeper than it looks and the kids are wetter than they look.
I admire my mother for being totally non-judgmental and non-interfering. I did wonder if I perceive less judgment because she’s my mom, but I honestly think she makes an effort to put up an impassive front. There were times when I glanced around after something the kids did or when V and I were skirmishing and she didn’t seem perturbed, nor did she have anything to say. I can’t help compare this to my in-laws.
On the other hand, possibly for the first time because I’m in a situation where I need it, I felt my mom at my back like a support. I felt that there was someone in the house who supports me unconditionally, and that is a liberating thing. I also realised how having a parent in the house, even one has non-interfering as my mom was, changes the balance of power and why it’s better for new couples to live alone.
My mom and I had long chats late into the night. After the second night, V asked in befuddlement: “What do you talk about?” He just could not understand how we could fill the time between 9 pm and 2 am simply talking on two consecutive days. What did we talk about? Our own lives, our close family, our respective friends, people in our building, our extended family, my mom’s helpers and their problems. We also touched on the situation in Gaza and Sonia Gandhi’s alleged domination of Manmohan Singh (my mom is a fan of Dr Singh, me not so much). Yes, this usually comes under the banner of gossip, but it’s also about knowing and caring about people and their lives.
Since my mom has been to Hong Kong several times in the past, we didn’t do the great tourist round. We did do dinners and lunches out, mostly in our neighbourhood. For once, she wasn’t keen on doing much shopping except for some practical grocery items. But I did enjoy doing a round of the malls with my mom instead of with V or as has been the case lately, by myself. I’m most comfortable shopping with my mom, we shopped with her from our teens onwards and I never had the same comfort level with friends. “Buy it,” she egged me on this time, “You don’t have that many clothes.” Ah, sweet music to my ears! However, the husband’s glowering presence in my mind’s eye and the impended student status, made me buy just one rather expensive handbag.
She also read like crazy something she doesn’t get the time to do in Bombay. She finished two books in 10 days, one of which was The Casual Vacancy. Seeing my mom absorbed in a book, reading through lunch, reading while chidlren screamed around her made me realise who I got the bookworm gene from. I had always thought it was my dad.
My mom is older than before. I have to watch her in case she stumbles and falls. One is prepared for this and never quite prepared for it.
I was sad when my mom left, sadder than I’ve ever been in the past. I realised how lonely I am for that day to day chatter even though I am so used to being without it. When my mom or I leave after a trip to my sister’s, she bawls. I have never been the crying on departure type. I bear it all stoicly. I have stopped hugging and kissing my mom sponstaneously, though we do kiss on arrivals and departures. I know she would love me to be more physically demonstrative but I can’t bring myself to. And yet, I came so close this time.
Photo of our helper E’s birthday cake because actual mangoes referred to in post were gobbled up too fast.
I have found it in me to talk about mangoes, so I must be feeling better (touch wood).
So, ever since I moved to Hong Kong, I gave up on mangoes. The mangoes you get here are the South East Asian variety that just do not cut it for me. They’re like eating those pastries you get in Japanese-style bakeries (which are pretty much all bakeries on Hong Kong) which only leave you aching for a real dessert. Of course, this is a matter of taste, and there are people who love the above-mentioned mangoes/pastries, and good for those people because those things are easily available but the kind of mangoes I desire are not.
Then, one day this guy we know made an arrangement with a girl who was into him who offered to split a box of mangoes with him. That was the extent of their hooking up (they shared the cost of a box of mangoes, which she procured), and we all shared the fruits (literally) of it. By god, they were gorgeous, and opened up the possibility that one might actually get hold of Alphonso mangoes in Hong Kong.
Apparently, you can buy them by the box at Chungking Mansion, but I have aversion to buying by the box, because I think I was brainwashed by my mother into thinking that fresh produce should be individually evaluated and handpicked (not that I have any expertise in this regard.) Anyway, Alphonsos are not my favourite type of mango, although I’m a Goan and they should be.
My favourite mangoes are the ones I knew of as Benishan, which apparently almost everyone else calls Banganpalli and hence no one knew what I was talking about when I mentioned them. The one fine day MinCat posted something on Facebook about Banganpallis and I had a sneaking suspicion and I googled them and lo and behold, they were the ones I’d been calling Benishan to blank stares all my life. Apparently, it’s a Deccani thing. Heh.
Anyway I had this sudden burst of longing for mangoes, and since V happened to be going to Bangalore I demanded he get some. Turns out V’s dad actually grows mangoes on his farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. So then I muttered about how those wouldn’t be the right ones and I must have Banganpalli. Turns out he grows those too…hell, he grows some five kinds of varieties. And he doesn’t use any chemicals, including the artificial ripening which is apparently the bane of Indian mango-eaters, so his mangoes are effectively ‘organic’ I guess though he would never have heard of the term.
They are very popular with the neighbours though, who flock to their house to buy them, but obviously we got the pick of the lot. And they were stunning. They are probably the best mangoes I’ve eaten in a long time, and I don’t say this out of deprivation. The only flaw were that in our greed we put some in the fridge that were not fully ripe so a couple that were not ideal level of sweetness.
Maybe it’s coming of age or something, but I’ve switched loyalties to Alphonsos. Does this mean I’m a proper Goan aunty now? I certainly have the hips to match, and the mangoes contributed to that.
I realised that the way you cut and eat a mango can add or diminish satisfaction. V insists on doing these criss-cross lines in the cheeks of the mango and then chopping off the resulting cubes so they’re easy to pick up with a fork. But I ideally want to just cut each cheek in half and go at it slobbering. Admittedly, the first way is more feasible with the kids, but the second is so much more satisfying because you can scrape every last bit of mango off with your teeth. Also, for the seed, i cut as much of the flesh around the seed off (so you get two fleshy strips with skin attached which you can then eat like mini cheaks) but most people just strip off the skin and suck the seed.
Benji is a total mango fiend. He was lusting after mangoes before he had even seen one because of this book. Then we got our helper E a mango cake for her birthday and he lapped it up. Benji is such a fan of mangoes that any will do, even some species from Kerala that I really did not enjoy, but that were so close to the South East Asian ones that my helpers loved those. The FIl sent four varieties.
Unfortunately, my tummy collapsed before the last precious two could be eaten and Benji finished them off. Hmph.
Friendship used to be a source of some angst for me a few years ago. Moving to Hong Kong cut me off from being in the same place as my closest friends. Even when I had been in Hong Kong for a couple of years, I felt that my closest friends, the people who I could have heart-to-hearts with and could really count on, were back in India. It was one of the reasons maybe that I came across to people as disliking Hong Kong (which was not really the case), because I felt that a very strong allegiance was always in India.
Now, I’m over that. I don’t have the time to have a large friends’ circle, I don’t even particularly enjoy having a large friends’ circle. I need a couple of good friends and that’s it. In Hong Kong, currently I have one. In India, I have two. And then there are a number of people sprinkled around the globe in a secondary circle, people I feel affection for and who I know feel affection for me, and who will lend a hand if I reach to them (but what differentiates them from the first circles is the ease at which I would reach out and the reliability of their response. And that’s my definition of close friendship, I guess.)
Curly recently asked me how many friends I’ve made since college who have stood the test of time. While my count isn’t large, and only one of those people is in the same city as me, I’ve stopped feeling weird about it. I’ve also realised that having a network I can lunch with or chat to now and then is good enough for me.
Last week, I met some new people. It’s very easy to meet new people in Hong Kong because of the floating expatriate population. But I realised I’m not very interested in meeting new people. When the friend I was with mentioned other people would be joining us, I was tempted to make an excuse and flee. The new people arrived and they were nice enough. Only they were so…new. They said the things that new people in Hong Kong say. They were clueless about the issues facing Hong Kong. I found I was bored, though not annoyed which is progress, I suppose. I had a couple of drinks and left.
Yesterday, I got in touch with someone in my network in Hong Kong as I needed some information from her. I’ve actually met her only a couple of times, but liked her, and even put her in touch with my former office for a part-time job. She asked if I’d like to meet up, and I said yes though we figured we’d do it when I started the PhD so that our timings matched better. I have a couple of people like her that I like enough to meet sporadically.
It’s very possible that having kids makes this lack of angst possible, and I’d be much more angsty about being social if I actually had the bandwidth for it. But I also realised that it that maybe I feel the need to have an available bunch of friends on principle (because not having that would make me a weird person, or I’d regret it with I was sad and alone one day) than because I really need them. It may be possible to do be down to one or two or sometimes no friends in one’s immediate vicinity and to be just fine.
Day 76: 2 May
Still confused about Benji’s school, I was glad to catch my sister on chat and get her views. Based on what I told her, she and my brother-in-law voted for the new school. Though I’m still undecided with Benji seeming okay with the old school, I’m still leaning towards the new school. This whole thing has taught me that I really do struggle with big decision-making. I feel like I’m waiting for some definitive sign to show me the way.
Day 77: 3 May
V and I had dinner out together after ages. Some great new restaurants have opened up in our district, and I think this one – Modern China – will be a favourite. I ordered my favourite mandarin fish in Sichuan chilli dish and since it was way too big for two people, we got takeaway boxes and I ended up eating that sauce through the week, frying up prawns to go with it mid-week.
Day 78: May 4
Woke up from my afternoon nap, my stomach rumbling, to the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Having tried the Betty Crocker box version with success, V made these from scratch and they were quite yummy.
Day 79: May 5
V and I had a rude argument that morning, and I felt terrible because he was leaving on a business trip. Somehow we made up, and it made me realise that these days I feel like Mr Darcy as expressed above. We ended up exchanging mushy smses which is more than we’ve done in months.
Day 80: May 6
Visited friends who have just had a baby and enjoyed talking to the visiting grandma about Bandra, where we both grew up. I realised I find it easier to accept and laugh off prejudiced views in the older generation.
Day 81: May 7
Sometimes all it takes is coming across the right book for your mood in the library. I have to say I didn’t love this one in the end. I’m fairly tolerant of Sophie Kinsella’s heroines’s propensity to fuck up, seeing them as an extreme version of myself, but the two in this book really made me want to shake them. Nevertheless, as always there are some awesome fantasy men in there.
Day 82: 8 May
Whatever may be said of technology, whatsapp has helped connect several groups that would otherwise have been out of touch for ages. In my case, it’s the cousins group formed after the reunion at my gran’s birthday and the college friends group that was formed after the trip to Sri Lanka and then controversially expanded to include some stragglers. Regardless of the politics and the inevitable off jokes or greetings, some of the exchanges on these groups are very amusing. And during one of them I discovered the majority of my college friends hate bananas! How did I hang out with these girls for that long and not notice this? Okay because we were too busy discussing our crushes and how to “get proxy” in class while eating spicy roadside sandwiches and “Mysore malasa dosa” but still.
I had been dying to read this book since it first came out because: 1. It got really great reviews 2. It’s not often that I come across contemporary literature in English about my exact community.
And it more than lived up to my expectations. In the first place, the book is beautifully designed. I ordered a paperback, and had no expectations about how it would look but it turns out the pages have red edges (which weirdly added some value to my life) and there’s an interesting graphic mark at the beginning of each chapter. I’m not sure if all editions of the book have this cover, but I would want this exact one in hardcover.
The book is ostensibly about life with a mentally ill mother, and I did have expectations of doom and gloom. In fact, had the milieu of the book – the Goan Catholic community – not attracted me, I’d have given it a miss based on my assumption that the book would make me cry.
Well, Pinto pulls of the marvelous feat that is the hallmark of a lot of great works of art which is making you laugh through what should have been depressing events – in this case, literal depression. Let’s just say I laughed – out loud even – a lot, and only occasionally did I choke up.
The central character of the book is Em, the narrator’s mentally ill mother. It must not have been easy growing up with such a mother, and Pinto does describe the horror of it, but one comes away almost envious. Because Em is such a marvelous character, so erudite, with such sharp insights and turns of phrase.*
The book is a tribute to a mother, but also a love story. And this is the part I loved the most – the forays into the courtshop of Em and The Big Hoom, the throwback to the time that she was not mad and then the moments of gentleness when she is, particularly at the end.
There are also insights into being mentally ill itself, in so much as the writer can convey something he has not experienced and only heard described, as well as the treatment of the mentally ill at the time. But somehow this is the background, it does not overwhelm.
The book was reviewed in The Guardian just the day I finished it. The reviewer says this:
Apart from when he experiences grief (in by far the best section of the book), the narrator never comes forward, instead explaining things that don’t require explanation.
It made me mad. Not Em-mad, just angry. Who decides what needs explanation? Why do we need explanations? Funny the reviewer didn’t ask herself after reading a book about madness, the very state of which raises such questions. Why does the narrator need to explain and reveal himself? This book is not about the narrator. It’s about Em. Ouff! The egocentricity of reviewers. I want this. Thus the book should give me this. Okay, even I have expectations of books that I get cross about being denied, but 10 pages into the book should have told the reviewer that this is not a book about “living the lives of these people at the same time as they were living them” in a Bombay and that it’s perfectly fine, more than fine in fact, that it’s not.
Okay, now I have written a review of the review. Ignore the review, read the book.
*It also makes me feel better about the kind of mother I am. I am not a conventional mother by any standards. I read too much. I say odd things to my kids. I have screaming fights with their father in front of them (which I am working on not doing). I sing and roll on the floor, sometimes at the same time. I have weird hair. I paint my face, and theirs. I let them play with my leftover make-up, and sometimes dabble in the existing lotions and potions. I veer towards gender neutral parenting and living. I let them watch the iPad so I can zone out. I grudge them bites of my chocolate. Etc. Now I’m thinking I should have had them call me something older than “mummy” to signify these aberrations.
I love books on Bombay so this one was right up my street. It covers a facet of the Bombay netherworld that normally finds a mention in Bombay books – the drug trade. Only this book deals with the subject romantically from the point of view of the user and the street purveyor rather than the gangster overlord.
Many reviews love/hate the extended first sentence that apparently goes on for several pages. I didn’t notice. It seemed perfectly natural to me. Then again, I’m a fan of Virginia Woolf.
Each character is unique and interesting if perilously flawed, not least because they are opium users. Almost all are erudite and philosophical, which might be the result of the drug or the cause of drug use.
The book meanders into the stories of the characters – Dimple, the hijra, Rashid, the chandu khana owner, Rumi, the middle-class man with a violent streak, Salim, the goonda, and the narrator Dom. Of all of them, I found Dimple most compelling, I’ve never felt a hijra character so natural, humanized and non-caricatured.
To hook me further, there’s a side story on a Chinese character that delves in the Cultural Revolution period. This character teaches Dimple to swear in Cantonese, with the Chinese words spelled out in English, which was very useful for me because just the morning I read that part, I was in a taxi and was thrilled to understand the swear words the driver used when a minibus stopped right in front of us.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s an episode with a painter called Souza, who is very reminiscent of the artist Francis Newton Souza who I was obsessed with last year. It was interesting to see this artist referenced in literature.
That’s it, I guess. Read the book.