Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Book Review: ‘Curry is Thicker than Water’ by Jasmine D’Costa

Jasmine D’Costa is a banker from Mumbai with over 25 years of banking experience who now lives in Toronto, Canada, and writes full-time. In case you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible for a finance professional who has crunched numbers for two and a half decades to write fiction, D’Costa’s debut work settles the issue with a thumping Obamaesque 'Yes You Can'.

'Curry is Thicker than Water' is a collection of short stories about Indians set in Mumbai and Goa and Nagpur. The best thing about D’Costa’s writing is that though her language is very simple and basic and she writes about ordinary people and events which are not very unusual (for India), she manages to give her stories and characters an exotic tang.

In one of her stories, ‘She Married A Pumpkin’, in my opinion the best in the collection, the prettiest girl in town is discovered to have a fault in her horoscope. A fault which will cause her first husband to die soon after the wedding. The stream of suitors keen to marry her stops after this discovery. There is of course a solution. If the girl marries a pumpkin first, she can then safely marry a human being. Was D’Costa inspired by Aishwarya Rai who married a tree before she married Abhishek Bachchan? May be. In any event, the pretty girl marries a pumpkin. The marriage liberates her. She can attend parties and functions and do all the things married women do. So, when a (human) suitor approaches her parents again for her hand, should she bother to remarry? Do read this story to find out.

The opening story ‘The Elephant on the Highway’ is as humorous as the pumpkin tale, but not all of D’Costa’s stories are in a similar light vein. In ‘Eggs’ the mother destroys her son’s dreams – for a very good reason. You end up feeling sorry for both, may be more for the son than the mother. In ‘Two Wives and a Doormat’ a drunkard's two wives team up in a manner reminiscent of the two sisters in law from Deepa Mehta’s Fire. No, they don’t become lesbians. I’ll leave it to you to read the story and find out what they get up to. In ‘Cobras and Pigs, Holy Cow’, neighbours of different faiths, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, weave spells and black magic on each other in a glut of superstitious frenzy.

The last story in the collection, 'The Guest at my Grandfather’s House' is the weakest story of the lot, since it is meant to keep the reader in suspense till the end and one is able to guess the answer to the mystery before one is halfway through. Despite that, D’Costa’s narration keeps one engrossed in the tale.

An eminently readable collection and I hope that we get to read more such good stuff from D’Costa.

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