An evocation of the past in luminous prose doesn’t quite save a thin story about a sharp-tongued mother and a homesick daughter who find understanding and redemption though continents apart.
Kamini, a successful academic, is living in Calgary, Canada. She calls her mother in India each Sunday, wanting to reminisce, but her mother Saroja, known as the Tamarind Woman because of her acid tongue, merely wants to argue and dispute every memory Kamini has. As Kamini shares her worries with Sister Roopa, she recalls their growing-up days as children of the railway. Their father was an engineer, and they were posted all over India, living in railway housing, each compound with its own club and hierarchy. Kamini remembers her parents’ frequent quarrels, her mother’s palpable unhappiness when their father was home, her playful and indulgent mood when he was away. But Kamini also recalls the frequent nighttime visits to their home by a handsome, half-caste mechanic who later committed suicide in the club billiards room; and the early death of her father, which ended their lives in railway housing. Saroja takes up the second part of the story, and, as she travels around India by train, offers her defense. She’d wanted to be a doctor, but her reactionary father insisted she marry a much older man, who treated her coldly though he was good to her children. As she recalls her past, she admits some responsibility for her unhappiness and suggests that Kamini should move on, make new memories and stop fretting about her, for she has reached “that stage in life where I only turn the pages already written, I do not write.”
Beautifully composed, but a journey into the past more notable for the travel than the destination. (Tamarind Woman is Montreal-based Badami's first novel; for her second, the prizewinning The Hero’s Walk, see p. 199.)