Getting the blues!

We all have read stories of abusive families, violent relationships and we are bombarded with it even by the television media. We are exposed to it to such an extent that it gets morbid. Now suppose there was a book that looked at these aspects from a different view, a subtle view;wouldn’t that make the novel with a used storyline, well, quite, ‘novel’? But well, you’ll ask, is there such a book?? But of course there is…there are always all kinds of books to be read!

And this one is called, The Blue Bedspread, a debut novel of Raj Kamal Jha which chronicles a tale of a abusive family history and incestuous relationships. And it is quite a quick, interesting read that still manages to evoke a spectrum of touching, depressing, momentous, happy emotions!

The story starts with an unnamed narrator who hears of his sister’s death during childbirth. His sister gave birth to a baby girl who he takes home for the night. Fearing that some other people might want to adopt the girl, he begins writing his family’s story so that the baby knows of its background, knows more about her mother and the family she came from. As he begins to write, the stories initially revolve around innocuous, childlike tales but gradually they begin to reveal the rot that festered in his family. The narrator opens a can of worms and the reader finds out about certain dark secrets of the abusive father, of the bold, defiant sister, of his mother and of the narrator himself. He talks of a blue bedspread that symbolizes the intimate relationship between his sister and him. That blue bedspread comes to symbolize a different world, away from the trauma of a dysfunctional family. In the end, the reader sees the shocking, exact nature of that relationship.

Raj Kamal Jha in The Blue Bedspread has skillfully written vignettes about the narrator’s family. It comes across as a jigsaw puzzle that the reader has to solve to view the complete picture. Each vignette has its own mood, emotion, feel and yet each is interconnected with a thin strand of the narrator’s memory and facts. The novel could have worked well as a collection of short stories as well because of this aspect. The writing style is sparse, straightforward, precise and to the point. It does not mimic other more famed Indian writers like perhaps Salman Rushdie or Siddharth Dhanwant Shanghvi who use either countless descriptions or a flowery prose. Yet, the book seems, at least to me, very similar in terms of structure to Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It might be written by an Indian author but the subject of the book is universal and though it is set in Kolkata, the narrator’s abusive family could be from any part of the world-be it Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Nairobi, Milan, or any other corner. The Blue Bedspread has a non linear narration, no fixed time line as it moves from one time span to another.

Unfortunately, this jumbled up narration can get confusing, jarring and even nonsensical. Certain vignettes also seem very inappropriate as they do not help the story to move forward nor are they very cohesive. The lack of a cohesive narration and structure of vignettes mars the effect of the story.

Its a great book to read, with Jha giving soft touches to a melancholic scenario, giving it a fresh look, yet gently showcasing the immense, long lasting impact of such family violence. But be wary of its narration and structure.

Pardesi: Unaccustomed Earth

For me, Indian fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me within her fictional worlds. I had read Namesake which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. Unaccustomed Earth is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.

Taken from amazon.com

The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different ages, genders,  and spanning across generations. The stories are set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.

In Part One, the first story Unaccustomed Earth is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father.

In the second story, Hell-Heaven, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American.

A Choice Of  Accommodation, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, Only Goodness is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a unique look at a brother-sister relationship.

The last story, Nobody’s Business  is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate  with Americans and who is in love with an Egyptian.

Part Two has three chapters which tell a love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years, yet one that ends in tragedy.

The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness, even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. Unaccustomed Earth provides harsh glimpses into the immigrants’ world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.

Although Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a clear picture of the characters in their mind (just like in Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the Namesake) It is a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.

One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: Unaccustomed Earth requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who are looking for a happy, rosy read, please don’t bother to read this collection of short stories.

For others who would love to venture beyond the usual and read something thought provoking, might find this book just right!

Happy Reading!


This post is part of the Pardesi series that highlights immigrant experiences.

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