As most people take for granted, memories are triggered by the faintest occurences. There is the distinct smell, for instance, that suddenly takes youu right back to your grandmother's closets or your uncle's work shop - and just like that everything becomes almost photographic in how you remember certain instances, even though you have not thought about them for twenty years. How quickly we are seduced by nostalgia...But how true are these memories of ours? They might not be false, but they are certainly highly subjective. But does that matter?
This colorful novel tackles the perception of memories in quite a clever way. The first half of the book is the narrative of Kamini, a daughter who reminisce about her past growing up in India. Through her we get a feel for the culture, sounds, smell and a certain mood of a bygone era that is often romanticized (right after Independence). Furthermore, we get a peak into the relationships among the family members, the servants and the school teachers.
Early on, there is a distinct strain between Kamini and her mother, Saroja. She loves her and yearns for her affection; however, she resents her and her "irrrational" moods. The father is distant, even when he is home from his railroad work. Her superstitious ayah, Linda, is quite an interesting person - Kamini is scared of her tales of ghosts and bad spirits, yet she feels safe in her company. The author has eloquently captured the mind of a girl - her growing-up angst, her lack of understanding the happenings in her midst, and the invincability typical of her age.
In the second half of the book, the author switches the narrative to the mother, and we get her side of the story. How do her memories compare to those of her daughter? It is an intriguing account!!! We follow her from childhood being prepared for an arranged marriage to widowhood reflecting back on her life and making plans for her independant years ahead.
I highly recommend the book - it is a sumptious and warm read.
This first-time author has avoided the trap of spelling it all out and leaves her readers the option of reading essential information between the lines. I did wish there was a map included in the book though. The family moves around to various parts of India since they belong to the railroad, and unless you are familier with Indian geography, it is too easy to get lost in the names.
I am looking forward to reading more from Anita Rau Badami!