April 19, 2012

Book: Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:08 am

Another Indian born author, another coming-of-age story. This is by the Indian Canadian author Anita Rau Badami. The story is told first in the words of Kamini, whose mother belongs to Mandya, a small town in South India. Her father is a Railway Engineer, and the family travels from Railway colony to Railway colony in various towns. The mother is bound by tradition and enters an arranged marriage with Mr Moorthy, universally called Dadda. He is a dour, taciturn man who does not show any affection in any demonstrable way but provides for the family and is often away on tour. Two Railway employees are permanently allocated to the family, the Linda Ayah who looks after the children, and Ganesh peon, who does housework, makes tea and helps out. Other servants are assigned as required. The story revolves around the life in a traditional family in India, the trials, tribulations, the suggestion of an adultrous affair between the mother and a nearby Anglo Indian mechanic, and the growing up of the family with the death of the father and dispersement of the daughters complete the story. The contrast between the emotional Kamini and the diplomatic sister Roopa rounds out the story.

The second part of the story is from the words of the mother, Saroja, and takes us even farther back into her childhood and retraces some of the same events from a different perspective.

The interesting part of the book is the unusual setting – a traditional Brahmin family deep down in South India, very conservative and very traditional – It is authentic (I should know, with a similar background from the same town even!) and it is interesting to hear of the primitive bath conditions (shikakai etc) and sweetmeats (kobti mittai).

That is about the only interesting portion, unfortunately. The author’s annoying habit of including a lot of joint words (“Nonono, you can’t”… or “yesbut…” or the frequent ‘hanh’s, rather than give a local flavour, are very grating and irritating). The story seems to repeat itself in a lot of places with the mother complaining about Kamini settled in the North Pole more than once, and in many places reads like a family diary, and thus unimportant.

The father is more a caricature, more a shadowy figure than anything else, and the story does not have weight in it to carry the reader through. The vituperative tirade against local politicians in Madras sound like the ravings of a frustrated woman. In many places, it is a lesson in how not to tell a multicultural story…

I can give it a 3/10 mostly for getting some of the local colour right…

— Krishna


1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on Nikipattanaik's Blog and commented:
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    Comment by nikipattanaik — April 19, 2012 @ 11:29 am

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