Book Review · Book Review - Non Fiction

Return to India – A Memoir: A BOOK REVIEW

Book: Return to India- A Memoir

Author: Shoba Narayan

Publication: Raintree by Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Pages:  269

“I smiled at the irony. India, our homeland, had become our quest. It had become our Star Trek go-where-no-man-has-gone-before thing. It was our version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn setting off on a raft into the unknown. India, the country we knew intimately – or thought we knew intimately – had become our ‘unknown land.’

This forms the crux of the book, Return to India. Reading a memoir is always interesting especially when the author writes in an easy going narrative style and is brutally honest about her life to the point where the readers begin questioning their own motives in their respective lives.

  • It is definitely not easy leaving a place one has considered home for more than a decade.
  • It is certainly not comfortable leaving a country one has been obsessed with for years.
  • It is hard letting go of amenities, status, social setup and the like especially when one knows that one may have to settle down for something less.

The author’s obsession with the US of A is described so gradually and with pints of humour graciously thrown in that one is instinctively drawn towards the emotions of the author.

For as long as I remember, I have wanted to come to America…America seemed liked a bright prospect. It was the land of the free, home of the brave…I wanted anonymity and space. I wanted to be able to cut my hair without taking a poll about whether I could, and getting a thousand reactions once I did… I wanted to live life by my rules. Not that of my parents or grandparents, but mine.”

Shoba Narayan does not even blink an eyelid or so it seems before she descends into her humourous tirade about the quirky traits of her large extended family. It sure requires guts to do that especially when one is dependent on them but then, the author also needs to justify her obsession for going abroad!

I really liked the parts wherein the author internally interrogates herself while she is in America questioning her identity and purpose for her existence as an immigrant. Like when she asks,

“But, who was I really? Was I the good Indian bahu or the feminist rebel – two different creatures entirely? And who were all these Indians pretending to be?”

“Most of our Indian friends – us included – hadn’t changed spots completely, but hadn’t remained the same either. We had retained some of our Indianness, while absorbing some American mannerisms, habits and interests, and morphed into something unique. We were unlike any of the Indians we had left behind back home but hadn’t completely become American either. We were mutants.”

No other book that at least I have come across has written about the immigrant’s inner conflict more honestly without a shade of hypocrisy as Shoba Narayan. In fact, with every chapter, with every incident she peels off any hypocritical stance that still pervades most Indian lives abroad.

“America, however, continued to seduce with the promise of wealth and the ‘good life.’ Like many others, I succumbed and stayed put, haunted by my homeland’s childhood warmth, but lacking the courage to return to its chaotic systems.”

For those wanting to know about an Indian’s life abroad, this is the book.

For all those Indians living abroad and wanting to come back to India, this is the memoir to be read.

And, for those just wanting to have a read of a brilliant book, Return to India is a must!

Shoba Narayan has indeed given a voice to all those who have been dealing with ‘an immigrant’s dilemma’ – to be or not to be is the question!

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11 thoughts on “Return to India – A Memoir: A BOOK REVIEW

  1. Though we Indians we don’t much about India and its people! India is like a world with each State as a nation having a lot of varieties in everything to know! Indeed this book must be speaking truth about India!

  2. I gues I am the same , I long to go home I live in memories of my chidlhood and everything .. but will i be able to go and live back .. I dont think so ..

    some may call it hypocracy or whatever but i dont .. because what ever I can do for the people back home , I can do comfortably living here , while if i was back home I dont think I would have been able to do anything

    if given a chance to settle back will i do it , yes sure but that time is not today

    1. Hi Bikram,

      Trust you to be frank and non-hypocritical! Yes, there are certain situations where we cannot do better than the situation we are in currently. And that is what you are trying to say. Coming back to one’s motherland is a long time wish for most Indians living abroad. How much it is possible today, that depends from person to person and family to family. But I am glad to hear from you that you do want to come back some day….

    1. Hi Victoria,
      Thanks for the lovely compliment. India does attract people living outside it for its spiritual pull while many people living in India want to go out for the material, educational and career aspects…

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