[BOOK REVIEW] The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshi Rajakumar

51zDMW4XrrL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It was with some trepidation that I started on The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar. A murder-mystery set in a Gulf state (**shush!**), involving lower-income migrant workers.

These were my 3 main fears:

  • The book would remove the invisibility cloak migrants in the Gulf don, only to reveal a negative characterisation.
  • It would tug at the stereotypical emotional strings of the migration narrative. 
  • It would dehumanise them.

Two of those fears were completely misplaced. And, yes, there were those emotional strings of family, ailing mother, poverty, but only to the extent a work of fiction demands.

First with the good stuff:

  • Every character in the book is sketched with great sensitivity and nuance. As in her earlier works, Mohana’s brings a lot of insight and layers to her male characters. Be it fresh-off-the-boat Manu, or the well-meaning but always in trouble Daniel, or Ali, the Qatari cop, and even Nasser who only makes the occasional appearance. She wills us to fall a little in love with these strange men.
  • Not one for great details or long-drawn out scenarios, the author still manages to vividly represent the many relationships in the book. Cindy and Sanjana, Maryam and Daniel, Daniel and Sherif, Manu and Santana, Maryam and her family, Maryam and Ali. She brings out daily frustrations and stifled aspirations even within brief exchanges between the characters.
  • It requires courage to write a book such as this. Not just about migrants, but the secret lives of expatriates, while still being one. That she has done well, mining the experiences of her many years living in a Gulf state herself.
  • The book manages to not bracket migrant workers as being completely helpless, and shows them as resourceful people. Without being patronising, it manages to show them as strong people, even if in weak situations.

What could have been different:

  • The book is self-published, hence does not have the advantages and resources of a publishing house. It could do with a good bit of editing and proofing. Chronology of events is mixed up in places. Also, its Gandhi, not Ghandi (Americans!).
  • The book covers a wide range of plots and lives and the author seems to have rushed through it in many places. Spending a little more time on some of the scenarios would have enriched the book the mysterious happenings at the labour accommodation; Manu and Sanjana’s relationship; Maryam and Ali’s interaction; the disconnect between Cindy and Paul.
  • At several instances it seemed like the writer thought of a great idea, but instead of developing it, just drops it there between the pages, running away to meet the next shiny idea. Maybe that’s what a sequel would address. Maybe.
  • While the expatriate environment and that of the Arab household has a sense of familiarity, the brief look into Nepal and the labour accommodation seems borrowed. More research would have helped.

I am not sure I would classify it as a crime-thriller. Not yet.

Do pick up the book, it’s definitely a good read. I read it in just a day and a half. That’s not to say it’s an easy read. The loneliness of the characters, their struggles and the faint reflection of our own lives will leave you thinking about the sequel.

PS: May I also suggest you pick up Love Comes Later & Dohmestics by the same author? They both give rarely available insights into life in the Gulf.

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BOOK REVIEW: QUIET BY SUSAN CAIN

“From a culture of character to a culture of personalities.”

That’s the one line from this book that keeps whirling in my head.

Self-help books, motivational blogs, coaches and guru actively encourage you to aspire to that ‘personality’ ideal, and profess to help you achieve it.

Not this book. It digs deeper into the people we are, what moulds us, what makes us and what makes us tick.

As Susan Cain writes, there is the ‘extrovert’ ideal that all of us are forced to embrace. What’s so wrong about not being that? Of being more introverted, more reflective, less loud and forceful?

In the world we live in now, to be an introvert is seen as a disability that has to be righted. Reflection, deep thought, analysis need to be sacrificed in the altar of presentations and larger-than-life personalities.

Wait… you don’t have to. The book not only explores the power of introversion, but also brings those personalities (characters) who have achieved global success without the chest thumping.

When Nat High first spoke of the book, I asked to borrow it. He was generous enough to gift me a copy. Thank you.

The key take back from the book, for me, was that I could stop being apologetic about what didn’t come naturally to me. Yes, we have no choice but to create an extrovert persona for crucial public interactions. But for the large part of how we choose to function, it’s best to do so with our innate strengths, instead of trying to work on a weakness upon which we attempt launch our lives.
It was at an MBTI (am an ENTP/J) workshop some years ago that I realised how close to the introvert mark I am. Just a couples of points across. Ambivert, that’s me. I hate labels, but this sounds cool.

Ever since my school days, people automatically assumed I am an extrovert, and so I accepted that label. So all that social anxiety that I suffer before going into a non-work socialising gig with strangers I put it down to low self-confidence. As I grew older I realised that it wasn’t low self-confidence, but a reluctance to spend hours with people who were not ‘mine’.

In time, I became more mindful of those who look ‘painfully’ shy. They probably just fall into the extreme of the introvert scale. And then I started enjoying their company so much more, I would seek them out (and they me). That joy of communication one-on-one, with someone who loves to listen as much as they love to be heard, is unmatched. Do try us. And do read the book.

If you are on the introvert scale, it will give you comfort. If you don’t, it will help you understand us better.

Talking sex with a 10-year-old

A few weeks ago, O my 10-year-old firstborn and I spoke about sex. She was reading Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, a fantastic book co-authored by this writer.

Though she enjoyed the book, she stopped midway and said she didn’t think it was ‘right for her age’. She said it spoke about periods (which she is already aware of) and ‘other things’. Because I enjoy GB’s blog a lot, I assumed that there would not be anything amiss, and asked O to continue reading the book. After which I read it, cover to cover, in one go.

Later I asked O what bothered her about the book and she said the kids talk about ‘bad stuff’ like ‘sex’ (which was whispered).

Apparently, her classmates talk about ‘sex’, and little miss in a self-righteous fashion told her friends it was ‘wrong’ and that she would not talk to them.

Now there were so many issues to tackle here. First, her concept that sex was a bad thing. Then, that those who spoke of it were bad. R and I are not judgmental, and fight very hard not to have ‘labeling’ conversations at home in front of the kids, which includes moral and immoral points of view, race, religion etc.

Yet, she would ask me if it was ‘wrong’ to wear a strapless dress, because she likes it and wants one.

R would prefer it if she were in a spacesuit, but doesn’t push it too much. I on the other hand am the opposite extreme and don’t want her to feel she cannot wear certain clothes or dress in a certain manner because ‘it’s wrong’.

So for the strapless issue, I told her she was too young to actually manage it, as it might be an uncomfortable dress to run and jump and fool around in with her friends, and suggested that we put a tiny strap on. When she feels she is going to spend a whole evening walking around daintily, we’ll get her a nice strapless dress.

I grew up with father who kept telling us what was acceptable clothing for a woman and what wasn’t (no-no to sleeveless and short clothes), not that we took his dos and don’ts seriously. There is another story to that, but that’s for later.

I digress. Back to O and Mayil and Sex. I told her sex wasn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be her concern at this age. That she should always weigh what’s important and what’s not, what she should focus on at a point of time in life, and what she shouldn’t. That sex means a lot of responsibility too, which she is too young now for me to explain in detail. (I already told you I’m a gawky parent).

Am not sure if I could have used a different script effectively.

Anyways, more importantly, I had to tell her that just because someone talks about something she is not comfortable listening to, or she feels is not right, doesn’t make that person ‘bad’ and she shouldn’t be quick to judge. Unless of course it’s someone who is being abusive or violent. Then raise hell and damn the person.

Though she did tell me I was as cool a mum as Mayil’s, and gave me a patient hearing, I don’t think she is convinced. Just as she is not convinced it’s ok for men to marry men and women to marry women, even if her mum says so.

You see, at the moment what her friends and teachers think seem more important to her than what I have to say. I can only hope that in due time my words will have some clout in that young impressionable heart and mind of hers.

Here is why I feel we shouldn’t at any stage tell our kids sex is bad. Because regardless of our opinion on the subject, they will have sex, and trends show, at a much earlier age than their parents.

If it’s in their head that it’s bad thing to do (who came up with that nonsense I wonder), they will not speak about it, and do it ‘in shame’ (gotta be Indian to understand this). Which means they will not be empowered enough to protect themselves physically or emotionally, and in all likelihood are going to confuse sexual gratification with actual relationships. Which means they might pile up regrets.

No, I am not spitting out ‘modern mum’ gyan. I am speaking from my experiences and that of my closest friends.

The more tyrannically strict the parent was, the more dangerous the child’s habits.

I am glad that this book gave me an opportunity to start this conversation with O.

I highly recommend this book for both adults and children.

Here is another reason why:

Mayil’s mum tells her that not everyone is beautiful, some people are really ugly. But each one decides how beautiful they want to be.

I absolutely loved that thought. Be beautiful people.

 

Open, difficult to close

I got Agassi’s Open as a birthday gift (thanks RenJay), but because of other reads and then my ipad obsession, I got down to reading it only last week.

I loved the book for the way it is presented and written, but  apart from the fact that he had a hairpiece and likes playing commando, there is little else revealing in it.

It is a whining, whinging, complaining, cribbing monologue of Agassi’s obsession with Agassi. But all that annoyance is written wonderfully by J R Moehringer, who doesn’t get cover credit, but is mentioned in detail in the acknowledgements.

Am I an Agassi fan? No… not the way I was a Lendl fan (the man is hot!). But I did find him appealing, I liked his smile, and he married Stephanie (yep, she doesn’t care for Steffi) whom I think is absolutely wonderful. For all these reasons, and also because I heard he reveals his commando days, I shamelessly asked my friend to gift me the book.

There is little more annoying than someone who can’t be grateful for the privileges of their life. Andre Kirk scores high on that factor. Yeah, his father was a tyrant; yeah, he lost his childhood; yeah, Connors, Becker and Courier were mean to him and Chang was too holy, Sampras too perfect — and hence all of them made his life miserable. Give me a break!

He was so self-obsessed he couldn’t take his girlfriend Brooke Shield’s career choices.

I wonder if he could have stomached Graf if she hadn’t retired.

He surrounds himself with well-wishers who don’t call his bluff. Good people I am sure, but how come no one knew he was doing crystal meth?

We get it about your spine and your anger and your father and your baldness… the poor little rich boy, who hates tennis.

He does come across as a really warm (the bond with his trainer Gil, bro Philly and friend Perry), generous (the $40 million school he set up for at-risk kids) and funny person (is that just JRM?) — but also a little too self-involved.

The endearing thing about the book is how honest he is — about a lot of things.

But the winner is definitely Moehringer (gotta pick up his The Tender Bar)

India Ink

A week after the holiday ended, as always, it seems like there never was one. 6 weeks should keep me happy, right? Wrong. I am greedy…

So in a nutshell:

First on agenda was a nadi visit along with a friend. A decision I regret in hindsight. Not because bad things were said or not said… simply because it seems like an unwarranted worry. What if by some freaky chance he was dead on?
One of the things he told me was ‘abdominal ladies problem at 46’ after which I will have ‘nerve, head, mental problem at 48’. Thank you, but no thank you. I could have lived without that prediction.
But he said a couple of things bang on from my recent past — meaning the last 6 months. He also described two women — eerily familiary — whom I need to beware of. Hmmph!

Then the big event of the vacation took place — my parents’ golden jubilee bash.

Also…

In between all that I spent a long day at the parlor to get my shine on. That's how my face contour looks. How pretty, no?

Madras is looking greener, cleaner… some of those flyovers are a real blessing. But somethings never change… unfortunately. The metre continues to be a mere decoration for the autorickshaws.

But the real fun was the week following where we weathered 40+ hairpin bends for girls' getaway. More on that on another post.

For now, let me just say Vaalpaarai is beautiful. I am loving it…

Did the Delhi-Gurgaon-Simla circuit. Delhi I don’t love. I feel more foreign there than I do in Doha. And can people get any ruder? The place is filthy. Shamefully filthy — it’s the bleeding capital, can’t they take a little more effort in the parts that VIPs don’t frequent?

 

The monuments however are mindblowingly brilliant. Like the Qutb Minar complex for instance. Now, pray tell me who recruits these jerks to man the entrance and ticket counters? Rude idiots, refusing to converse in anything but Hindi. For goodness sake, these are international tourist sites, you've gotta be friendlier than that.

Brought back memories when I saw the wire sculpting outside Raj Ghat (where there were pan stains too). I bought a cycle 27 years ago. Picked up some pieces this time around too.

The Delhi metro is convenient. But people can't follow instructions obviously. Right below the sign is pan stain at the 1-day old Rajiv Gandhi Chowk station.

The words on the vehicle in combination with his ass tickled me. Jobless!

Managed to get time for some reading too. These are the four I read –actually 5, but the 5th is a different post.

 
 

Loved it. The man can tell a story. Take basic human cruelty, add an anthill and some gaming — voila! Didn’t like the ending though.

 

A surprise. Worth a read for sure.

What was the point?

Skip it!

Both brats had a blast…

 

For O it was the usual fooling around.

And N, seen using my nephew’s prized camera lens cap as a snack plate, was spoilt beyond belief.
  

Sigh! And that, my dears, was 6 weeks that disappeared before I could say ‘I hate Hindi chauvinism’.

  

 
 
ps: In case you wonder if I had anything but a blast, let me tell you — the return was horrible! I fell really sick hours before leaving Chennai and puked and crapped my way to Doha, and took a good week to recover with a dose of emergency IV aid and all. Ha! so evil eye already kapput.