Bordoloi’s debut novel offers a picturesque journey through contemporary India with a splash of Mad Men style.
The novel’s first half captures the spice of life in Northeast India from the perspective of a young boy and his extended family. Baba, the youngest child in his family, is content to eschew walking for the pleasures of crawling on the floor and exploring the world with his best friend, Lumba, the family dog. He doesn’t just put off walking—he’s rarely in a hurry for anything. He’s also slow to talk and, at school, even slower to apply himself. There’s nothing wrong with Baba physically or mentally; his leisurely pace is instead the result of a peaceful constitution. Why devote any attention to math, he thinks, when the temptation of an ant colony calls from just beyond the schoolhouse door? Despite his introspective nature, Baba is quick to make friends, and he even goes so far as to organize a successful barter scheme among his chums. Soon, though, Baba’s inquisitive temperament turns tragic. Flash-forward 19 years: Baba’s once-close friend Neloy is a well-off, divorced adman vying for a promotion whose ambition has blinded him to the things in life that really matter, and it’s up to Baba to help him find his way. Throughout, Bordoloi does a remarkable job of painting a charming portrait of contemporary India, including its cuisine and scenery, and provides a compelling view of jet-set Mumbai. However, although the story of Baba’s life enchants, the novel is halfway over before it truly finds its footing. Although Baba’s motivation in helping Neloy find peace in a world that values image over substance is laudable, readers may wonder why so much time is spent developing Baba’s family in the first half when they’re almost completely absent from the second. Still, readers seeking a touch of sentimentality will enjoy the lovingly depicted familial vignettes.
An uneven tale of redemption, but one as slick as an advertisement.