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Geography is history

Geography is history
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First Published: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Quarantine: By Rahul Mehta,Random House India,252 pages, Rs399
Quarantine: By Rahul Mehta,Random House India,252 pages, Rs399
Updated: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 03 32 PM IST
After the exit
Most Indian fiction in English in the last two decades falls under what is disdainfully referred to in literary circles as “mango pickle” writing. These are elaborately written stories of being raised in an archetypal corner of exotic India, of walking through paddy fields, lying awake in the festering summer heat and the haunting memory of grandmother’s cooking. Smack your lips a last time, because mango pickle stories are now on the wane.
Quarantine: By Rahul Mehta,Random House India,252 pages, Rs399
Much like our peripatetic countrymen, Indian writing has also gone places. The works of two new authors releasing this month augment this trend. The first is Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine, a book of nine short stories about gay Indian Americans. In Mehta’s world, the big story is not about coming out of the closet; it is what happens after the grand exit. His characters are cast adrift from the original American dream of big money, big house and big car. They inhabit cockroach-ridden apartments with dirty linoleum floors and have complicated relationships with other men. None of his protagonists long for India or an idea of India, they are American, comfortably ensconced in both their nationality and sexuality. Sure, there is anxiety about their family’s acceptance of their homosexuality, but it is societal, not cultural.
That is not to say that Mehta has shunned India, it’s just that being Indian is incidental. Whether his characters are exploring touristy Rajasthan or tending to an ailing grandmother in Breach Candy, their pleasures and pains are universal. Quarantine is a delightful read and one that takes sub-continental literature on a leap forward.
The script-turned-book
The Betelnut Killers: By Manisha Lakhe,Random House India,284 pages, Rs250
Manisha Lakhe’s The Betelnut Killers begins with detective Franklin D. Wade walking into a sanatorium in Portland, Oregon, US. For the rest, the book shifts to the home of Chimanbhai Shah, a Gujarati who runs an Indian shop. When Supriya, a hottie who was Shah’s assistant, starts her own store on the other side of the mall, Shah feels the “heat” of the competition. The Shah family, determined to get rid of Supriya, hatches a plan to bring Osmanbhai, a Mumbai don, to the US. But of course, things go wrong from the start.
Lakhe lived in Portland and she knows the topography of the place well. Also on cue are some of her observations about Indian Americans. What lets Betelnut Killers down is what comes across as Lakhe’s contempt for Indian Americans such as Shah. She caricatures them to such an extent that it is impossible for the reader to care about the plot.
The buzz is that Shashanka Ghosh was to make a movie out of the Betelnut Killers. In fact, he put it aside to make Quick Gun Murugan. As things stand now, there is no confirmation on when and if the movie will be made. Which is such a pity because Lakhe’s book is written like a screenplay. Tedious to read, but easy to visualize. Think of it as a Gujarati Murugan in America and pick it up only if you really, really care about that.
veena.v@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 01 15 AM IST