Most of the insight into Paddy Indian’s mind comes from his
thoughts — about his intrepid, doting Amma and her unyielding
morality who can "never understand the difference between
normal and decent". About his Appa who he cheekily thinks
deserves a title like Grandfather’s – "Prof Sriram
Anant FCF (OC). Family Comes First. Of course."
About his ‘friend
since conception’ Sunil and his wife Renu — both of whom
also happen to be his schoolmates and co-residents in Dublin.
About Annie and Aiofe. About the latter’s family, specially
her mother Millie Gorman who he deftly describes as "Amma’s
psychological double". About Manoharan — his hospital
co-worker with his very migrant, very chauvinistic mindset, who
thinks women like Annie are easy game.
And about himself — torn between his half-real paranoia of
White people and bridging the chasm between the East and the
West and indeed, between two generations from different milieus.
His conflict about who — Aiofe or he — will give up
everything to be with the other is characteristic of all those
young people from so-called modern-Indian families. They like to
be seen as cosmopolitan till cosmopolitan problems begin to grow
in their backyard. He knows it would be darned difficult for
Aiofe to settle down in India for even as Indians "fawn
over White foreigners, they might privately wonder if she has
converted from using toilet paper to using water and soap".
But then he doesn’t want to be "that foreigner
forever" sipping Bailey’s and wanting to smoke beedis!
story isn’t just about migrant angst. She has the knack for
spotting the follies and foibles of people that makes them real.
Venkat who says his wife is all frigid instead of saying she’s
frozen in the cold or Mrs Tiwari with her "Total peoples is
twenty-eight. Ladies and gents included" are real. There is
funniness in the way she writes about the "stereophonic
burping" that Sunil and Paddy share and the sly names, like
Randy Renu, they remember giving to each other in school. She is
unsparing as she gets Renu to be at her sardonic best in telling
Aiofe, "See these westernised Hindu liberals? Come exams or
the next job interview, they’ll be asking their mothers for
the ghee lamps to be lit and special prayers to be
performed. You see, they access their religion on a need-to-know
Madhavan also surprises. Just when you are settling in with what
you think is a rather sedate story, she yanks you out to face
you with a new turn of events minus much ado. But the most
delicious thing about her story is the ‘other’ hero —
food! Food becomes her emotional processor — to grind, chop,
mince, mix and blend! But it performs more than an allegorical
function. All those deliciously long descriptions about hot
steaming idlis, crisp vadais, appams and
egg curry, small potatoes in strips of streaky bacon, match-sticked
carrots doused in butter, all that grinding, squeezing,
extracting, cutting, slicing, soaking, marinating, slow and
deep-frying leaves even a non-foodie like me salivating and
hungering for more. And I have a sneaking suspicion that she
might be penning a book on cross-cultural gourmand delights!
Okay, so I am
eating — my words. At least, some of them. Madhavan engages
with issues of prejudices, biases and racialism — be they
Indian or Irish. In fact, they are as much cross-cultural as is
the pain of being a migrant. "Distance can warp your
judgement, smother your emotions with logic and make you
temporarily so detached," thought Padhman, becoming
conscious of Appas’s hands holding him gently. "Whatever
made me think I wouldn’t miss Grandfather." he says.
She also makes you smile. And
once in a while, you also cry till you smile again.