A provincial Bengali family enters the 21st century, in this earnest story set in Toturpuram, "a squalid little town" on the Bay of Bengal.
Badami's second novel (her first was published in 1996 in Canada, where she now lives) is as much about the everyday difficulties—lack of fresh water, erratic electricity, all-pervasive governmental corruption—of contemporary Indian life as it is about the ostensible plot. The author peppers her narrative with precious anecdotes about the eccentrics who populate Toturpuram: a madwoman who directs traffic half-naked; an ancient exhibitionist dubbed "Chocobar" after his cocoa-hued member; a housewife who snips the ends off her neighbor's drying laundry, and so on. Then there’s Sripathi Rao, a high-caste ad copywriter of a certain age, who fears nothing more than the poverty and chaos that surrounds him. He lives with a pack of characters straight from central casting—pious wife Nirmala, activist son Arun, witchy mother Ammaya, spinster sister Putti—in the rundown mansion built by his dead father. At the start, Sripathi learns that his grown daughter Maya, estranged for nine years after her marriage to an American, has been killed, along with her husband, in a car crash. Sripathi travels to Vancouver and fetches Nandana, Maya's headstrong seven year-old daughter, now rendered mute by the trauma of her parents' death. Accustomed to spotless houses, video games, and sugary breakfast cereals, Nandana reacts badly to the ripe smells and mysterious foods of India. The child's presence, however, offers the prickly, embittered Sripathi, who cut his daughter off without a second thought, a chance to redeem himself, in part by becoming free of antiquated ideas about obligation and etiquette (represented, rather clunkily, by the family's rotting house).
Well-written, heartwarming: indeed, a kind of Indian Christmas Carol—but one in which the characterization and story play a subservient role to the somewhat labored strokes of local color.