THE BOOK: Neil Narayan’s coming of age story is set in a primarily Southeast Asian suburb of Atlanta. Neil and his next door neighbor Anita Dayal were great friends growing up, but middle school and high school brought changes, as the teens struggled to find their own identities. Looking back, Neil reflected, “For it felt, back in Hammond Creek, that it wasn’t our job just to grow up, but to grow up in such a way that made sense of our parents’ choices to leave behind all they knew, to cross the oceans.” Anita’s path to adulthood led her to the Miss Teen India Pageant where she blew the other contestants out of the water with her charity project. Anita was driven, she knew what she wanted (Harvard) and stayed on course to get it. Neil- not so much. Always in the shadow of his perfect older sister, Prachi, Neil didn’t know what he wanted, and felt the sting of disappointing his parents repeatedly. But the cast of characters do grow up and grow apart, while keeping their teenage secrets hidden and haunting. This is a beautiful story, lovingly rendered, of alchemy, love, magic, family, missed opportunities and choices. The story did not turn as I expected it to, but I was charmed by the direction it did take. I loved this book. In the words of Ramesh Uncle, “…some stories do not leave you alone.”
THE BEAUTY: At his sister’s wedding, Neil was obligated to speak. “There was my brief toast–I was still known, unfairly, as the public speaker in the family; I read a Neruda poem in lieu of offering original thoughts, in part to keep from choking on something sentimental that was coursing through the air.” The author didn’t specify which Neruda poem, so it was purely my choice to offer this one.
by Pablo Neruda
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
THE FOOD: Neil described his mother’s very large ears through which she received news of the world of her neighbors, which she then dispensed to her family during dinner. Ramya reported on all kinds of “nonsense,” which was any child’s behavior that could not be added to their college application. One evening, she told of Jay Bhatt’s father’s trip to Ithaca to talk some sense into him when he annnounced that he was abandoning math for film. “Have some more samzi,” she’d say between stories, monitoring the dietary intake of her children, while adding, “that Reema Misra was bragging about all the boys she’s practicing kissing. Nonsense!”
2 T oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion chopped finely
½ C lima beans
3 handfuls baby spinach
1 yellow bell pepper
1 medium carrot sliced
1 medium sized potato chopped into bite sized pieces
2 large tomatoes pureed in the blender
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp lal mirch powder (or 3 parts smoked paprika to 1 part cayenne red pepper)
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pot, and then add the cumin seeds. Saute for about 30 seconds, and then add the chopped onion. Saute until the onion is golden brown. Add the chopped veggies and the tomatoes. Now add the spices, and mix. Cook covered on low heat, until all the vegetables are cooked through. You may substitute other vegetables that you have on hand or that you prefer. The mix is entirely up tp you.
To serve garnish with chopped coriander.