- Indu Sundaresan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I just loved the first two books of the Taj trilogy. I didn't get around to reading the third, because it is in some sense not the continuation of the first two books, and I had quite enough of Mughal history at that time, and then just never got back to it. I also liked her story-telling in 'The Mountain of Fire', even though the book didn’t work as a whole. So, when I first came across her collection of stories - In the Convent of Little Flowers - with a beautiful cover, an intriguing title and interesting blurb, it promptly went on my TBR. So it is that I had been wanting to read it for a long time, and had very high expectations from it. But it wasn’t available in India, and the import fee jacked up the price so high that I didn’t feel justified in ordering it when I had a lot of other interesting stuff to read.
Well, I am just glad that I didn’t spend all that money on it. It took me a long time to finish, almost giving me a reader’s block. Apart from the fact that in last few months I have been spending most of my spare time in my other passion (namely, art), I read only one book at a time, and very rarely abandon one in the middle. I wanted to finish it, and yet couldn’t summon enough enthusiasm to finish.
The book just didn't work for me. Apart from the fact that the tone of all the stories is melancholy and depressing (even when there is a slight gleam of hope), I didn't really find a fresh perspective in most of the stories. For example, two of the stories deal with children’s’ mistreatment of elderly parents, and subjecting them to not just neglect, but criminal abuse. Now, how many stories and movies on this theme have you come across? Same is the case with the stories about unwed mothers or a purported NRI duping a girl’s family for dowry; even the one about wife-swapping is nothing new. Having grown up in small-town India in the 70s and 80s, and having read hindi literature (and translations of other regional works) and hindi magazines of that era, most of the themes were very familiar, and at least I did not find any new insights into the situations either. Overall, a big disappointment from the work of an author whose earlier works I admired. I would have rated it at one star for the content, I added one for the wonderful imagery of the setting she has painted in many of the stories.
Works such as these by NRI authors, sometimes make me wonder about their target audience. Are they trying to tell a story with universal appeal? Or are they targeting Indian diaspora overseas to make them feel nostalgic (if so, I don’t think it works very well, as for me, the feeling it most invoked was of negativity). Or are they targeting the western population, who commonly perceive India as an exotic and yet backward country, and reaffirming their belief by perpetuating the stereotyped ideas?