In Bakshi’s debut novel, a naïve young man from India makes a life-changing voyage to America.
The author gives E.M. Forster’s classic A Passage to India (1924) a winking, ironic twist in this tale about a young Indian man losing his innocence during a passenger ship voyage in the 1950s. Baxi Ram Babu is a psychology major in his mid-20s in the small Indian village of Gunju Nagar, where the men suffer from a very specific mental plague—the burden of sexually pleasing their wives is driving them to suicide. It inspires young Baxi to take an impromptu sea voyage to the United States to find a state-of-the-art cure. His wife and father are stunned by his sudden decision to travel halfway around the world, and both predict terrible outcomes. But Baxi is adamant, and he soon finds himself on his way to the States—and promptly surrounded by morally dubious characters intent on introducing him to hard liquor, cigars, marijuana and “women’s lib.” He meets strong-willed and sharp-tongued women on board who provide him with sexual experiences he’s never had with his devoted wife back home. They also introduce him to heresy, as one woman calls temples mere “collection houses”—an idea that at first horrifies Baxi but that he then begins to believe. Bakshi neatly works a great deal of irony and insight into this comparatively short novel, and it’s a frequently uproarious, sexual coming-of-age tale. Readers will simultaneously deplore Baxi’s weak will and chuckle at his spectacularly comprehensive loss of innocence. There are quite a few well-turned comic moments, including one adept set piece involving a misunderstanding, two scandalized firemen and a fire extinguisher. Some of the humor can be obvious at times, and many characters have only enough depth to be comic foils, but the satire remains winning just the same.
A witty, titillating tale of a modern-day Candide’s self-discovery.