The sub-title to this review should be “The Family Reunion from Hell.” You think I’m being overly dramatic? Read on.
There’s a wry quote from one of the family on the topic. He says :” People in the West keep themselves busy during reunions – they play sports; they drink. We do neither. We sit around and squabble and pretend everything is alright.” Actually, I can think of some Western families who do the same, but back to the Indian novel I’m reviewing.
Four Westernised grandchildren travel from the USA to Sikkim to celebrate the landmark 84th birthday of their grandmother – Chitraleka – who adheres rigidly to the caste system, is adamantly wedded to traditions from the previous century, despite being a rich industrialist/business woman, despite her status as a widow.
Agastey (author of the quote above) in an oncologist, living in New York, with his boyfriend, but – shhhh! The door to this closet is firmly closed, and he’s continually pestered by the family to interview suitable brides, and get married. Two-thirds of the way through the story, his OTT boyfriend Nicky pitches up, uninvited, to join the happy family gathering. Oh boy.
Manasa is married, and forced to leave her job as a hedge fund manager to care for her ailing father-in-law, as tradition demands. So she’s filled with bile and resentment.
Bagawati, eloped, and married out of caste! shock! horror! She’s in total disgrace with grandma, who refuses to acknowledge her two American grandsons in Boulder, Colorado. Poor Bagawati struggles to support her family and works as a dishwasher, but is ashamed to admit this, or the fact her husband is a failure.
Fourth grand-child, Rutha, joins the party late, but with disastrous results. He’s a trouble-making journalist who – true to form – causes all sorts of mischief.
As if this turbulent mix needed any more drama, throw in Prasanti, an ex-hijrahttps://en.wikipedia.org/ (eunuch) who is a servant, but treated by grandma as servant, maid, confidante, friend. Prasanti is a curry-flavoured fire cracker who thrives on creating disruption. Which she does, at every opportunity, and sometimes at grandma’s instigation.
And you thought your family gatherings were difficult? Exhausting? Fraught with tensions, old sibling rivalries, sad and/or bad family history? You ain’t got nothing on this lot, I promise you!
So when your annual Festive Season Family Gathering turns out to be exhausting/fraught/tense/ take heart : you could have been part of the family gathering in Sikkim. It could be worse.