Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Chronicles of a journalist - The first article for which I got a by line =)

August 19th 2007, The Sunday Express

Nikita Lalwani
Penguin Books, Rs 395

Nikita Lalwani’s debut novel ‘Gifted’, traces the life of Rumi Vasi, Cardiff's mathematics prodigy from age 5 to age 15. Her empathetic novel has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize of 2007. From Rumi's addiction to cumin seeds, her love of the number 512 to her self-consciousness and feeling for India, the author describes her fictional genius' every fleeting emotion in the novel.

To enter the mind of a child, let alone a child genius, is an extremely hard task, yet Lalwani has captured Rumi’s thoughts in vivid detail. Rumi finds solace in her number-crunching, but is terribly lonely as a child. "She felt her inferiority; the weight of her books and the clothes on her back seemed to deform her posture appropriately, forcing her to bend over like a true outcast..." She can accurately calculate that her probability of walking home with the popular John is 0.2142, but the probability that he maybe interested in her could be a negative digit. But it is not John, it is her equations with her family which form a major part of Lalwani’s novel.

We encounter Mahesh Vasi, Rumi’s father, in the very first chapter, pondering over something from his daughter’s exercise book. Something pricks him like “a tiny dental tool piercing soft gum”. Seemingly insignificant at first, the novel’s opening is quite telling encompassing most of Mahesh’s characteristics especially his ignorance regarding his daughter. Shreene who never stands up to her husband, is emotional and very unlike the logical and precise Mahesh. Despite this emotional side, she also cannot decipher her daughter .

Education plays an important role for Mahesh, a first generation immigrant. Living in his bubble of clear pros and cons, dos and don’ts, he is a hybrid – a victim as well as a villain. He wants his daughter to have the opportunities he never had, and aspires for Rumi to shine in her field.

And that is Rumi’s tragedy. Driven by her father, she leads a friendless existence. Working out problems in the library, fighting hunger and cold, she is forbidden to talk to anyone during these sessions. Her math skills however flourish and she joins Oxford at the tender age of 15 years, 3 months and 8 days and opens her eyes to a whole new world. More importantly, to a world where she can do as she pleases. Away from her tight study schedules and the hawk eyes of her parents, it is only a matter of time before she follows her heart.

Though comic in places, it is Rumi’s anguish which comes through clearly.. The novel is fast paced, drawing the readers into its inner depths.. Screaming bouts with Shreene, a thrashing from Mahesh, all leave Rumi scarred and lost, without anybody to lean on except her numbers. The conflicting values thrust on a child brought up outside of her country are painted clearly in various hues by Lalwani. Unable to comply with her parents’ wishes, yearning for a bond with someone, and without any friends of her own, she rings the emergency services to simply hear the voice of another.

Nikita Lalwani is of Indian origin, born in Rajasthan and raised in Cardiff, Wales, she has directed factual television and documentaries for the BBC. Weaving many post-colonial themes into the novel as well as delving deeply into the minds of her characters, especially her child genius, it is a novel of social as well as psychological relevance. Wonderful and poignant, it is a well-written, tight and an extremely evocative debut novel.


Who knows what people think,
Why some are nice while others stink,
Why they laugh, why they cry,
Why they smile and why they lie.
Do you know why some do both at the same time?
Why some illuminate lives while others are mere grime?

Why do some never accept the truth,
Tis hard, but that’s life, forsooth.
Why do some paint grey in others’ lives,
Use their daggers, stab deep with knives.
Keep your grey to yourself alone,
Someday about you all will be known.

They say what goes around comes around,
What was alive once, has to go deep underground.
They live in the hope that this is true,
They live with hope; it takes away the blue.
Hope can mislead, can lead to disappointment,
Will you risk hoping and wait for contentment?

Some brush it off – “C’est la vie,
People are mad, leave them be”.
They move on, forget the past,
It’s over, they don’t let the pain last.
They go home, eat, work and sleep well,
Above the grey people do their souls dwell.

Some lose bits of their colour, soul and spirit,
They weep inside trying not to let others know it.
Ouside it’s “C’est la vie, unaffected is me”,
Inside the hurt and rage twists; others cannot see.
Forgive not, forget-it-not, secret pain is the worst,
With steel exteriors, tender interiors, such people are cursed.

So which one are you, or which one do you want to be.
Who will you let inside, how many people will really see?

Love comes with its own terms and conditions,
Lovers lie, proclaim love, have a private list of sins.
Friends judge, want what you have; they also lie.
Sometimes you’ll wish they would all just die.
People, they come and they go, but you go on forever.
Malaise may remain.. but never become one of the grey. Never.