Four Passages to India

The attraction I have towards books based in Asian countries, India especially, is the similarity between their culture and my African culture.   I remember years ago I attended a work colleagues wedding. They were of Indian origin and if not for the fact that the bride wore a red wedding dress;the whole wedding bore resemblance to a Yoruba engagement.

The view of the western world from the eyes of an outsider is another thing which attracts me to a book. I find this in both African and Indian novels as they share similar elements of experiences. They both have a post colonial history and occasionally find themselves as the minority in a Western country. Be it America or England

So here are four books, based in India or written from the perspective of an Indian as a minority, which I find interesting.

The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

Bajwa excellently portrays the social class system in India.As a young girl I happened to go to Victoria Island in Lagos and saw that the houses were different to other parts of Lagos. When I asked my dad as to why they were different

‘These are where the upper class live.’

I didn’t know that Nigerians had different social class.

He continued to explain that the colonial rule gave birth to a new societal class.

This theme of societal class is what Bajwa addresses in The Sari Shop. However, I do not think the societal class in Nigeria plays such a holding factor in issues of marriage in as it does in India. The actual Sari Shop in the book reminded me of lace shops in Nigeria where there is an array of different types and level of traditional material. And just as in the ‘Sari Shop’ brides flock in order to buy their trousseau.

 There are many characters. I had to keep going back to remind myself. It all began in the Sari shop and the author introduces us to these many characters which quickly immerses us into the Indian atmosphere. The background of the lady who eventually turned mad was very interesting as it portrays the economic margin and the effect it can have on people. The culture and tradition in this book is portrayed in such a way that it gave me a very delightful experience. The way Bajwa describes the Sari shop, the street, alleyways , bazaars you are dropped deeply into the colourful life of India.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This story is set in Ayemenem, India. It follows twins who are separated after their cousin drowns and their mothers illicit affair is revealed . This is a complex book. The narrative is not written chronologically and there is high use of flashback. Its theme is that it is the small things which change the course of life and affect peoples behaviour.

The Yoruba traditional religion believe that all human beings pass through what is known as Ayanmo which translate to destiny or fate. Apart from this it also focuses on the caste system which is a thousand years old and classifies and shapes social life.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

I must warn you that this book is big. It is 1,349 pages and one of the longest novels ever published in the English Language. So its an excellent book to read during this lock down period. It is about four families and set in post -independence, post -partition India. The main theme centres around the attempts of a domineering mother to arrange the marriage of her youngest daughter, Lata. There are many characters. I had to keep looking at the family tree to remind me who was who. However, this book really transports you to the culture of India. Seth gives a vivid descriptions of the culture , beliefs and political system.

Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

I had been looking at this book at Waterstones during a lunch break. From the title, I imagined it to be about a group of orphaned  children who run away from a village or orphanage. Or a bit like the film ‘Africa United’. The 2010 film about Rwanda children who run away to watch the world cup.

We are introduced to three men and a lady making their way to England from India in search of a better life. The introduction to all these different characters showed that no matter your class or status everyone is yearning for something better. There was a high use of native words which , a native speaker would have felt quite at home with. But this may have been a bit too much for the non-native speaker. I suppose Sahota used this technique in order to achieve that immigrant perspective.

This hiccup, however, did not hinder me from enjoying the book and empathising with the characters. It gave me the immigrant perspective. Even though these were Indian immigrants it could be applicable to any set of immigrants, of which there are quite a few in England. The characters actually make you realise how desperate people are and the extent they will go in order to better their lives.

Personally, the sign of a good book is thinking about it when I am not reading it. This was one of those books.

So, these are my choices of books if you want to take that ‘passage to India’. It gives us the Indian experience both within and outside India

Thanks for reading

Bunmi A-K

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