The other In­di­ans

A rite-of-pas­sage tale that doesn’t quite stand up to the best, yet isn’t so easily for­got­ten

The Financial Express - - WORDS WORTH - Sudipta Datta Sudipta Datta is a free­lancer

IT’S A novel that wants to look into the heart of Amer­ica and into the lives of “the other In­di­ans—the ones who don’t get talked about and whose sto­ries don’t get writ­ten”. Well, Ran­bir Singh Sidhu’s de­but novel gives us one such story and it’s not a pretty tale. We meet the pro­tag­o­nist Deep Singh in 1984 in Cal­i­for­nia at age 16. He is the son of im­mi­grants “who weren’ t doc­tors or engi­neers, nei­ther had much of an ed­u­ca­tion; they were the other In­di­ans...” They knew very lit­tle about Amer­ica and in that ter­ri­fy­ing world Singh was born, grow­ing up to be a “reg­u­lar messed up kid... an­other Amer­i­can, just one of the peo­ple, do­ing things”.

In the first few pages, we me­an­der along with Singh through dusty, small, ugly, hot towns, as he gets him­self“into some kind of fix ”. We read along with him, as he flips through Spinoza’s Ethics and gets drawn to one line :“Re­al­ity and per­fec­tion I use as syn­ony­mous terms ”. We watch his im­per­fect world break­ing down, even as he tries to give it a sem­blance of nor­mal cy. He falls in love with Lily, an older and mar­ried woman born to a Chi­nese im­mi­grant mother from whom she is est ranged. One of the more har­row­ing parts of the book is when Lily tail­gates a Chi­nese fam­ily on a high­way, scar­ing them ter­ri­bly.

But scarier things are wait­ing to hap­pen at Singh’s home. His el­der brother Jags tops talk­ing one day and soon a year passes by with­out him ut­ter­ing a word. His par­ents ye ll at each other over a blar­ing TV, as the fam­ily’ s Amer­i­can dream hangs by a thread. The par­ents want both brothers to marry Pun­jabi girls. They want them to be­have like the vis­it­ing cousin from In­dia, who knows his prayer sand is a good Sikh. Sing hand his brother are far from be­ing the Sikhs his par­ents want them to be, even as they strug­gle to make a life in Amer­ica, where they are treated as some “rare and threat­en­ing species of brown”. But things soon spi­ral out of con­trol.

If life in Amer­ica is hard, events in In­dia hold out some hope for Singh’s whiskey-drink­ing Un­cle Gur who dreams of bee-keep­ing bliss in Khal­is­tan. But Op­er­a­tion Blue Star spoils his party. Sing his 17 years old then— an­drea lise she is lucky to be alive.

Rite-of-pas­sage tales aren’ t rare in lit­er­a­ture and there are some stun­ning ex­am­ples like JD Salinger’ s Catch erin the Rye. Sto­ries about the dis­pos­sessed and marginalised, peo­ple in the fringes, aren’t rare ei­ther. Think JM Coet­zee’s The Life and Times of Michael K, which won him the Booker Prize. Sidhu’s de­but novel doesn’t quite stand up to the best, yet the strange, ec­cen­tric, odd life of Deep Singh isn’t so easily for­got­ten. In this fiercely com­pet­i­tive world where only suc­cess­ful lives are cel­e­brated, it’s won­der­ful that Sidhu has writ­ten about those who get left be­hind in the race.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.