India Was One
by An Indian
Jai remembered the first time he saw her like it was yesterday. He was sitting in the college canteen (cafeteria) with his friends Bunty, Subra and Punk, drinking (chai – tea). From where they were sitting, they could see the main road across from the canteen where people were passing by. It was drizzling. A few students were walking hurriedly towards the college under an umbrella, while some were wearing hooded jackets with their bellies looking big from the books they had tucked inside their jackets. Others were holding newspapers to cover their heads and had folded the legs of their trousers to keep them from getting wet as they tip-toed around the puddles that had formed.
Some hawkers were selling hot (bhaji – fritters) in a top-covered cart open from all sides. Steam emanated from their woks as the wet battered (bhaji) hit the hot oil, making a sizzling sound. As soon as they came out of the frying pan, the hawker sprinkled them with a generous portion of dry spices. A few customers were savoring them while the others were just taking the shelter of their covered carts to stay dry.
Suddenly, an auto-rickshaw stopped on the road. Its tire splashed into a small puddle that the driver had tried unsuccessfully to avoid. A hand jutted out, holding a small red umbrella. The fingers pressed a button on the umbrella extending and unfolding it, and a woman stepped out quickly, attempting to avoid the rain. She was wearing faded blue denim jeans and a crisp white shirt, with her hair tied in a pony-tail, and she carried a tan colored leather bag. Jai choked on his tea when he saw her. He had not seen a more stunning girl before. She looked lost since it was her very first day. It was Jai’s first day too but he was confident as he had the company of his three friends. She, on the other hand, was all alone. His eyes followed her as she disappeared in the college doorway.
India Was One is not an easy read. It is not a love story, a mystery/thriller an adventure, a travel book or anything that fits into a structured genre. But India Was One is all of those things and so much more.
Looking deeply into the culture and mores of a country that most Westerners don't understand, it takes the reader on a journey that is at once heartbreaking and life affirming. This novel will take you to the heart and soul of both the geographic land that is India and the richly diverse culture that is its people.
While none of us can fully understand a people or a culture unless we are part of it, it does open the doors to more comprehensive knowledge of why India is at a crossroad politically and economically.
But this isn't a history book or a travelogue, it is a story of people who love. Living their lives as all of us do. Working, laughing, joking and taking care of themselves and their families. As they celebrate festivals and buy homes you will see people who are living their lives much as we do. Falling in love as we do.
But there is an undercurrent in this rich and warmly penned story. What if India were divided physically? How would that change the lives of the people of India who live there and the lives of those who now live, work and contribute to so many other countries? Are the cultural divisions that are happening so radically in India akin to a physical division. What if there was a wall or a fence dividing India?
For those readers who want a love story and an understanding of a rich diverse culture India Was One will deliver that with warmth and skill. For those that want to understand why India is at such a cross-roads, why so many people are leaving India and emigrating to other countries you will find many of the answers here.
I am glad I read this novel. It increased my understanding and I enjoyed the story. I was disconcerted all the way through the novel by the italic words explaining every native East Indian term used. It took away from the flow of the novel and if the author really felt it was needed a list could have been added to the end of the novel. Most of the words used are not so difficult to figure out in context and for most readers they are not unfamiliar. Other than that and a few editing errors, it was well written. It does use British English so those readers not familiar with usage and spelling will find some differences but they are minor.
It is high on my recommend list.
About the Author
The author was born and raised in Mumbai, India. He came to the US in 1989 to New York. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
The author's conscious decision to remain anonymous makes a political statement and intends to communicate the insignificance of a particular sect, religion, region or gender over a common identity, i.e. an Indian. Asked about the same, the writer responds, "It's more important to me that this book was written by an Indian. For readers who are non-Indians, sectarian differences are secondary. Although the book is based on India, people around the world identify with the message".
For further insights, read a short interview with the author.