A first collection from screenwriter-singer Moynihan, daughter of the late New York senator, chronicles the cultural clashes between India and its Western aficionados.
In “A Good Job in Delhi,” house servant Hari is pulled between traditional customs and the lure of his English “master’s” World Bank–supported lifestyle. With luck, Bob Thompson will take Hari back to the West, presumably every Indian worker’s dream. Hari busily sidetracks his mother, who has recently chosen his bride, with lies that will keep him among Bob’s extravagant parties and beautiful lovers. Although the story is politically aware and rich in description, it fizzles with an ending rushed to an ineffective, teary departure. “High Commissioner for Refugees” focuses on two American friends who catch the Dalai Lama speaking in Gangtok. Leyton works for the UN, Davis for a congressman, and both are fully versed in the Chinese invasion of Tibet. After helping a Tibetan monk who’d been tortured, Leyton is asked to contact his government in hopes that five arrested monks might be freed. Though brief, the tale successfully explores the fine line between idealism and reality. “The Visa” charts the higher echelons of Indian society, where travels to Disneyland provide powerful social clout as visas remain hard to secure: Melanie Andrews, a naïve embassy official, discovers to what ruthless extent people will go to acquire them in this dead-on dark comedy. In “Paying Guest,” a nicely written story that doesn’t know where to end, an American Hindustani vocalist is housed by one of two artistically feuding families, eventually taking advantage of everyone who wishes to take advantage of her. In the novella “Masterji,” Moynihan’s most penetrating look at East/West collisions, people chosen from all over the world attend the Masterji’s teachings at the Himalaya Guest House. Awaiting instruction from the dying spiritualist, the followers spend their time arguing civil liberties, enlightenment, and clothing. Finally, “In the Heart of Braj” follows a young woman who, searching for isolation and meaning, discovers that being infatuated with a culture is different from understanding it.
Not always in balance, but engaging, sympathetic, and capably done.