Snapshots by Shobha De is a story about four women who have a reunion after a gap of time. The story is told in flashbacks and narrates the events of an afternoon that the frinds spend together. It results in problems and a death (Noor).
Aparna, (husband Rohit, lover Prem), Reema Chandiramani (now Reena Nath, relationship with her brother-in-law), Surekha (housewife, dominating mother-in-law, has a lesbian relationship with her friend and Dolly), Rashmi (eleven-year-old Pips’ mother, middle name nymphomaniac, he is a bastard, father is a married movie director, Pips Sr who left her for a tidier home), and Noor (has an incestuous relationship with her brother, discovers the hidden microphones for the materials for Swati’s Sisters of the Subcontinent, and commits suicide at the end of the reunion).
The Namesake (2004) by Jhumpa Lahiri is, again, a personal favorite. After reading it again, I relaized that it is an ordinary story of two generations of the Ganguli fmaily but this time, as an immigrant, I could connect more to the situations of Ashima Ganguli.
Themes: identity (Gogol and Gogol), home and the diaspora, immigrant, relationships (Gogol and his partners, Ashima and Ashoke, and the community of immigrants), and food.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh is a personal favorite. I re-read this thinking that my love for it was misplaced but, surprise, it was not! One reason is Tridib, the central character, who functions as Ghosh’s mouthpiece.
Themes: home, memory, relationships (between generations), history, and borders (geography).
Place: “I could not persuade her that a place does not merely exist, that is has to be invented in one’s imagination… so that although she [Ila] had lived in many places, she had never traveled at all” (21).
The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji is set in Africa and is written in the style of a memoir. Vassanji himself was born in Nairobi in 1950 and educated in Tanzania. The gunny sack is bequeathed to the protagonist, Salim Juma, a Tanzanian Asian by his grandaunt, Ji Bai. The sack unravels the histories of the characters.
Themes: home, communities, diaspora, family relationships, and migrant life.
The gunny sack is described as,” It sits beside me, seductive companion, a Shehrazade postponing her eventual demise, spinning out yarns, telling tales that have no beginning or end, keeping awake night after night, imprisoned in this basement to which I thought I had escaped” (5).
Why are canonical works of literature, sometimes, not as wonderful as expected? Or is that one of the criteria for labeling a work ‘canonical’? Raja Rao‘s Kathapura is one such work. I had read the Introduction in an undergraduate class on Postcolonial Literature and how strangely the English language functions after independence and decolonization.”The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought- movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien,’ yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up-like Sansrit or Persian was before-but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have to grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.
A Fine Balance (1995) is Rohinton Mistry‘s second novel, after Such A Long Journey. It is too long at 600+pages. It is a wonderful book set in Mumbai between 1975-1984 (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency features prominently), but it is still too long. There are numerous histories of the four main characters and their previous generations. It reminded me of Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, and its scope is as large as the Mahabharata.
The novel is nevertheless interesting and would probably make a good Hollywood movie. It is tragic but not in the Greek tragedy way. Sad and horrible things happen to characters from the beginning to the end with a slim section of happiness and hope in the middle. The four main characters are Dina Dayal (formerly Shroff); her two employees, an uncle-nephew duo of tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji; and her tenant, Maneck Kohlah, son of her friend and studying refrigeration.
Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee narrates the story of Jyoti of Hasnapur, Punjab. It describes her struggles as a wife, and later, a caregiver and a partner in the US. each of her identity is connected to a change in name and place. She is seventeen years old when her husband is murdered and when she travels to the US as an illegal immigrant (connection to Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies).
Jyoti is the name given to her by her family; Jasmine is the name given b her Indian husband, Prakash Vijh; Jase is the name given by Taylor, the father of the girl, Duff, who employs her as a caregiver; and Jane, the name given by her second husband in Iowa, Bud Ripplemayer, a banker in Iowa who is paralyzed, and the adopted father of Du, a Vietnamese who also goes through similar struggles and who later leaves them to be with his sister.