A PERPETUAL SURPRISE by Shells Solomon Klass

A PERPETUAL SURPRISE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title is derived from the Indian poet Tagore: ""That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life."" However, since there is virtually no Indian character here viewed with anything but patronizing amusement, this comic portrait of a childlike, upwardly mobile Brahmin could be more like a perpetual embarrassment to stereotype-sensitive readers. Robi Gangulee, a Brahmin whose now-deceased family was forced to flee what became Pakistan, is suffering the indignity and harsh fate of pulling a rickshaw; it's worst of all when he has to haul a big-bellied babu, greedy and demanding. But then that Nepali rogue Bahadur, whom the gods inexplicably seem to favor, secures for Robi (for a healthy commission) Bahadur's former post as cook/bearer to a pair of Americans. Overwhelmed with his good luck to serve the pale, foolishly over-kind people, Robi is yet beset with minor misadventures in the kitchen and market. And so the American Memsahib confers on him an excellent title: in her mother's home, she says, ""an innocent man to whom so many unfortunate things happen"" is called a shlemiel. Further calamities ensue: the Americans are roped into attending a circus (not that much different from a small town American version); Robi and the sahib try to track down an ordered tape recorder in Delhi--where they're subjected to an endlessly tiresome oration by a Tagore fanatic, are outwitted by a thief, browbeaten by an official (until Robi comes forth with home talk and helpful healing tips), and treated to two guided tours. And finally, after the departure of the Americans, Bahadur eases Robi into the honored position of local healer: as the well-dressed and respected Doctor babu, Robi has revenge on a former rickshaw customer by unduly lingering before his errand of mercy. Slight and incidentally amusing, but the deep respect and feeling for another culture that's essential to satisfactory cross-cultural humor (see, for instance, Phyllis Birnbaum's An Eastern Tradition) seems to be in short supply here.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Apple-wood