Friday, 4 January 2013

Return to India ~ A Memoir ~ - Book Review


What is home anyway? Is it a place, a person, or merely a fleeting memory? Can one ever go back home, or is such a trip fraught with disappointment? Author Shobha Narayan captures the dilemma engulfing all those people’s mind who have moved away from their homeland and have adjusted in their new culture. A tale of aspiration & ambition which thrusts a Tam-brahm middle class young girl to make her way to USA. She utilizes her every bit of energy to break the shackles to pursue her dreams in that alien country. This memoir takes us through the journey of the author’s life in USA and her rendezvous with new culture, cuisines, life & friends and then her tryst with motherhood. Being a mother brings radical changes in her thought-process and she halts to evaluate her decisions, her choices with the new frame of reference.

My Take:

The candid narrative in the first part of the book which involves author’s chronicle of passion & determination to chase her dreams hooked me to the book instantly. I was able to relate with her itch to venture out from the conservative family background to initiate a new life of freedom in an unfamiliar land. The respite which she aptly portrays with her immigration to USA from the suffocating & distorted education & bureaucracy system of India was quite freshening. Her wit filled minutiae about her extended clan was remarkably candid.
Author very beautifully sketches the gradual changes that creep in their life and takes us through a realistic trail of her life events. She doesn't bat an eyelid to jot down her exploration of new culture and assorted measures opted by her to resume a living as an aspiring green card holder. However, as the question of ‘identity’ sneaks in her mind in second half of the book the flavor of the tale takes a different turn. Motherhood brings in her life the somehow clich├ęd NRI attitude for her kids. She starts worrying about the mixed culture of her daughter’s upbringing and ponders about the instillation of Indian values in her kids.
Author keeps on oscillating between the warmth of her close-knit family in India and the materialistic eased out life as an US citizen while portraying the dilemma through well chosen words.

“America, however, continued to seduce with the promise of wealth and the ‘good life.’ Like many others, I succumbed and stayed put, haunted by my homeland’s childhood warmth, but lacking the courage to return to its chaotic systems.”

However I was not able to relate to this part of the book much. I personally feel that we can never compare our childhood & upbringing with that of our kids. Every phase & situation has their pluses & minuses and we cannot force our kids to relive our childhood. Author kept on glorifying the Indian values and dependency culture and somehow I felt tried to fit in her comfort zone with ‘Return to India’ issue. Author tries to create a delusional scenario about all good things of India and travels to nostalgia where relatives go out of the way to help you kids, Nosy neighbours who spend their day idle playing chess & ludo keeps a track on your family activities and so on.
Author brings up some interesting humorous scenarios where she tries to force her ‘born again Hindu’ values to her family by dragging them to temple or wears ‘Saree’ for the whole month. Her spouse’s beliefs were more realistic as he believed in drilling right values in kids; be it anywhere in the world. I don’t deny the fact that this ‘moving back’ issue is too sensitive & required lot of thinking but somehow this part was quite long drawn.
Concluding it I can say that it is a good read. A book which deals with the ‘immigrant’s dilemma’ in detail. It caters those audiences who are away from their roots for long and are pining for their home. Also, I liked this memoir for the candid presentation of author’s life devoid any hypocrisy. The question of returning back to India has never been accessorized by the author with some social messages concealed in hypocrisy. However I would love to read another book from the same author about settling back in India about whom she had high hopes.

  • Title – Return to India ~ A Memoir ~
  • Author – Shoba Narayan
  • Publisher – Rain Tree
  • Pages – 380
  • Price – INR 395
  • ISBN – 978-81-291-1928-5
  • My Rating - 3.5/5
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