India is of the modern era. It is the ‘I’ in the BRIC countries routinely referred to by commentators as the fastest growing world economies. 65 years after the country achieved independence India has truly come of age.
And yet its customs and traditions live on. The perceived middle classes may have embraced the Internet, mobile devices, flat-screen TVs and social media but family values still run deep. Sue Ghosh, in her entertaining novella, illustrates these values by reference to her own family.
We meet, sometimes via her mother and at other times through her own young eyes, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. For better or for worse they are family and are connected. Firmly connected too. Here in the West we acknowledge grannies, aunts and uncles. We send them cards, sometimes visit or are visited. But rarely are they part of our day to day lives.
Here in Ghosh’s Kolkata (Calcutta reclaimed and renamed) the extended family are introduced one by one. And they are all remarkably different in character. The ‘Them’ of the story are Ghosh’s aunts and uncle – Older Sister, Sly Sister, Moo and The Brother. The star of the story is Moo, kind and uncritical to a fault. Though spending several years studying and working in the USA she inevitably returns to be with her family. Sly Sister is an attention-seeker but her faults are overlooked because she is family. Older Sister and Ghosh’s own mother are talented scholars but elect to marry and forego a career.
Throughout the male members of the family are treated as special, as prodigies, even when all the signs suggest the opposite. The author relates almost with wonder how her useless male cousin is supported emotionally, practically and financially up to the day he marries. And yes, marriages are still arranged in India, though these days apparently with a measure of consent. And the day you marry you also take on his or her family, often living under the same roof.
Ghosh writes with a laid-back humour. Although always respectful she sees the patently absurd. When her male cousin Joy marries a tribal woman she writes ‘My grandmother had taught my mother and Them to never criticize anybody’s physical appearance, but even sweet Moo had found herself muttering a ‘Dear God’ when she had first seen her.’
I laughed out loud at this and several points. I hope the author intended this!
Ghosh doesn’t waste words in describing her various characters, but lets them speak for themselves via their actions and interactions with other family. I thoroughly enjoyed her straightforward but always entertaining manner of writing and was disappointed when the story ended. But as she herself says, she stopped when the story was done.
I hope she has more. Available from Amazon.