PaperTigers chose Uma Krishnaswami‘s novel, Naming Maya, as their Tiger’s Choice, this month. After reading the conversation on their blog, I decided to read the book again. I’m glad to report that I enjoyed it even more the second time.
Naming Maya tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who must go to Chennai with her mother, who’s decided to sell her father’s house. Over the course of the summer in the land of her parents, now divorced, Maya comes to terms with many issues in her life even as she learns more about her family, and her split cultural identity.
The first time I read the book, I’d only been in India for a few months. Now that I’ve made my home here for almost 4 years, some details of the book spoke to me in a way they did not before. “What will four people say?” worries a character in the book. I laughed out at that one. I didn’t know that it was told in that particular way. How vivid, colorful and true! I’ve come to learn that indeed, as Lakshmi Auntie mentions in the book, Indians are very much brought up to mind what any four people around might say. They’re not the only society to be like that, mind you, far from it; but it’s definitely strong, here.
I adored the character of Kamala Mami, the old, loving housekeeper who’s also the keeper of the family’s history.
There are many layers to this book : communication between mother and daughter – the question on PaperTigers was to know whether this would be a good mother-daughter book club, and I definitely think it would be – with the weight of things never said permeating everything between them; Maya learning to feel her way in this place that’s so much part of what she is and feels familiar with in a deep, instinctive way, and yet, is not home in the sense that New Jersey, where she was born and brought up, is ; and the wonderful symbol of the Two-Gift (Maya and her best friend in New Jersey always buy each other two identical gifts ; they give the other one, and keep one for themselves, so they have twin collections) which comes full circle when Kamala Mami gives her her own Two-Gift. And, of course, there is the language, rich, full of sensory details, the description of Chennai’s city life, the neighbors with the husband always speaking about the weather, and the wife always complaining about the house-help, the tantalizing descriptions of all the Indian dishes cooked by Kamala Mami, etc.
Thanks to PaperTigers for launching this conversation and giving me the opportunity to read this book again.