Five novella-ish stories meander ironically through modern Indian subjects.
Under the guise of illuminating the “dotcom colonization,” Ramaya (Flute, 1989, etc.) fetishizes modernity as the indentured servant, the terrorist, the arranged-marriage matchmaker, the IT status climber, and the callous grad student each clutch at their gadgets. Nike sneakers and laptop computers bolster plots filled with frequent e-mail interludes and the incongruous culture-clash of Old World mysticism (the destiny of arranged marriage) and New World technological savvy (Internet dating). The snarky title story focuses on academia’s garish sensationalizing of terrorists. Twenty years after the event, at an academic convention, two women fight to co-opt an experience: an obtuse interaction with a low-tier but deeply romanticized terrorist, Manik, who, we’re told in all seriousness, “must never again be separated from the rain,” removes his clothes during an interview, thus sparking a Fulbright’s worth of speculation. The real tension in the story comes not from plot development but from, on the one hand, the strain between the melodramatic relationship soulful Pia shares with “her terrorist” and, on the other, her comic jabs at the fawning Westerner’s blockbuster movie, tell-all book, and doctoral thesis—all based on the single flimsy encounter and generously sprinkled with absurd postmodern jargon. In “Destiny,” this intellectual arrogance comes from an Indian woman who, seeking material for a anthropologist’s dissertation in a superstitious village, blithely remarks to her American advisor that “the third world exists for exploitation—what else?” before inevitably falling sway to the magic of the swollen river. “Gopal’s Kitchen,” a would-be fable about reincarnation by way of black-market organ transplants, employs clunky exposition and clearly stated themes. In “Re: Mohit,” entirely told as an e-mail exchange, slapdash storytelling abounds under the pretext of capturing online authenticity.
American-minded modernity struggles aimlessly against the soul of paradoxical India.