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04.08.2017

Step into these stories succulent and alive, sparsely written and densely populated, each a hard-hatted expedition into the loneliness of immigrant Indians and also the peculiar loneliness of Indians who have never left home.
 
In the eight stories in A Life of Adventure and Delight, author Akhil Sharma meditates on themes of isolation, despair and guilt, leavened by fleeting instances of happiness, which he describes in one story as “blasts of music”.
 
Deploying economic, vivid sentences, Sharma burrows deep into the pscyche of a divorcee who must learn to recalibirate his expectations of companionship; a student who enjoys scrolling through Craigslist for prostitutes to haggle with; and, most poignantly, an alcoholic mum who interrogates people at dinner parties about their state of happiness.
 
What’s remarkable about Sharma’s characters is that he allows them an ordinary fallibility that’s difficult to find in much of Indian English writing. Here are people we don’t have to be irresistibly drawn to (Amitav Ghosh’s characters in Shadow Lines) or repulsed by (Diksha Basu’s “paunchy gladiators” in The Windfall).

What’s remarkable about Sharma’s characters is that he allows them an ordinary fallibility that’s difficult to find in much of Indian English writing.

Indeed, finding meaning and melancholy in the everyday is Sharma’s gift, and the biggest punches he lands are through every day instances: a bag of candy, an early date, a kid who turns to Superman instead of God; they are the fulcrums of his stories. And it’s when he steps away from the everyday – when he attempts to explain Indian Culture to a Western audience, tells of pretty women on Indian farms being as common as rabbits, and how good girls back home don’t have sex before marriage – that Sharma falters, his sentences growing stilted.
 
One of the strongest stories in the collection, titled You are Happy?, is about an alcoholic wife and mother. The character was inspired by a conversation Sharma had with someone from India who claimed there were no female alcoholics. It is a study in restraint, the clear-eyed, dispassionate way Sharma describes the horror of a mother who can’t get out of bed, witnessed by her young son, crusted in her own fluids, finally led to a detox center. Relief comes, as it always must, but in subtle forms: flashes of sunlight on a window, people walking down the street. It is not a Golden Ticket, a secret benefactor, Superman: yet, it is enough.
 
Getting there: A Life of Adventure and Delight is available to purchase here.
 
This review was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer based in New Delhi.

Image Credit: Penguin India

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