Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: If Today Be Sweet

Posting after a long time, here is review no. 5 for the South Asian Reading challenge. I read another few South Asian books in the interim, and will post here soon. In fact, my backlog is about four books already read and not yet written about! I better hustle and bustle. Here is today’s book.

Title: If Today be Sweet
Author: Thrity Umrigar
ISBN: 978-0061240232
Pages: 296
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Multicultural, Drama, Indian

Review: I have read almost all of Umrigar’s books, and loved them all. However, I was wary of reading this one, actually more scared than wary. There are some books that force us to look at the questions and quandaries of our own lives, which hit too close to home to be comfortable or acceptable. This book seemed the same to me. I am completely torn about the India vs. US issue- where to live long term. Where to work, what to do, where will I find more happiness? This eternal immigrant dilemma is nothing new, no novel personal crisis. Yet, it is my personal crisis and it bothers, troubles and anguishes me. This issue is compounded for me as I truly love both countries. If I deeply hated any one, the answer would be easy. But I love and value both.

So whenever I read the blurb of this book, I felt that this book would be like reading about my own dilemmas. And so I stayed away from the book. After all, denial is a pretty blissful place to be! But then a few days ago I picked it up and read the book. And I am glad I did. Oh, it made me cry. It wrenched my guts and soul. It made me sob in despair. I loved the book (stating that seems redundant by now).

The book is about an elderly woman, Tehmina, who recently lost her husband and is now staying with her son, his American wife and grandson in the US. The book talks about the challenges and issues that arise as Tehmina stays with her son’s family. The compromises, the discussions, the resentments, the everyday annoyances, yet the love underneath it all. We get to see the US as filtered through the thoughts and eyes of a sixty-five year old woman, who has lived in India all her life. And suddenly has to adjust to monumental changes in her life: death of her husband, loss of life as she knew it, shifting of life to a whole new culture, a whole new way of living and thinking and reacting and being.

The book centers around Tehmina’s dilemma- to go back to the familiar country she loves, her own home, her own life back in Mumbai. Or live here as a loved but sometimes tolerated member of her son’s family. She is torn between the two cultures, two lives, two ways of living, two disparate strands that shall never meet. But do they meet in her?

The elderly heroine is shown as an extremely independent gutsy woman with a mind of her own. If not, maybe she would have unquestioningly accepted living with her son. But this is a woman who is intelligent, courageous and self-reliant. She has carved out her own manner of living. And is reluctant to let go. At the same time, she longs to be with her son and grandson. She is also getting older, and is afraid of getting older alone (an entirely justified fear).

I do like the fact that this woman is not shown as a typical Indian mother-in-law, but as an extremely sensible independent self-reliant person. She is never shown to be overly dependent on her son for anything- financially or emotionally. She also never displays any traditional Indian curmudgeonly behavior. This thinking woman is the center of the book- one who is torn between two places that she loves equally.

Uptil the end, I had no idea what decision she would take. Neither did she. In the very end, she does decide to stay in the US. Because the people she loved and those who loved her, were here. Because in the end, all that matters is the people. Not the place. Be where your loved ones are. Be where you are loved. Be where people can take care of you. Be where you can be taken care of. Is that the answer? I still don’t know…

(Image source: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/if-today-be-sweet-thrity-umrigar/1008224676)