Thrity Umrigar

Its difficult not to like a book that starts off with a reference to ‘The Sound of Music’. After all, for a generation, there are so many memories attached to that movie. It serves as a good snapshot for what the book holds in store, a ‘Wonder Years’ kind of nostalgic trip, one that I could immediately identify with, and one that supplies many lump-in-the-throat moments. The book is billed as ‘Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood’ and has done an excellent job of it.

We are with the child when she discovers how the world has different rules for adults and children, when she thinks that she would never grow out of Enid Blyton, only to switch loyalties to Mills & Boon years later. We see her move on to Herman Hesse and becoming obsessed with Van Gogh. We are with her as she grows up and realises that the people around her existed long before her, and are part of stories she never knew.

Though the story is primarily about her growing up, the author manages to cover a lot of other ground and link it very well with her life. The story of a city that was united across classes by cricket, the story of a middle class that is mostly in denial of the poor that surround them, but also makes unwritten rules for transactions with them. The story of the various strings that pull us, some visible, some not so.

As she looks back on her life after finishing college and realises the paradoxical importance and unimportance of her relationships with the various people and things in her life – music, books, politics, parents, teachers, relatives and friends, and slowly tries to put them in perspective, I saw a story that could in many ways describe most of humankind and the lives we create for ourselves. And that perhaps would explain why I consider this a must-read.