Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Matter of Geography

What I really like about Jasmine D'Costa's writing is her vivid descriptions that take you right there. In the case of her latest novel A Matter of Geography, it's Bombay, India in the early 1990's.   

Math teacher Peter, who tells us his story, describes math as a world of definition, certainty & comfort. He explains "There must be a mathematical, numerical solution, some certainty to human behaviour." He takes comfort in thinking there must be a mathematical approach to everything, from the conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims, to love.  

The Billimoria compound where Peter and his family lived had the necessary assorted characters that make up fascinating funny anecdotes, such as the woman who wore 3 dresses at once. There was also the humorous tale of when some men bought chicks for an eggs supply, and how that turned out. 
The Marchon sisters, who always had "puppies" (guys) around them, were cause for much talk in the building. In explaining the sisters very provocative behaviour, D'Costa says "their destinies were defined far before they were born."  
I enjoyed the way the Hindu nationalist organization was described: "a bunch of bony men with flared khaki shorts, sticks and some unskilled exercise routines could do a better job than the Indian Army." 

Something memorable for me was the child parent perspective told by Peter, how children see things differently than adults. Kids look at their own shadow & with imagination, call it a plane, but moms look up in the sky with worry their child is seeing things.  

I could sympathize with Anna when she wrote in her diary about her father who couldn't afford a summer vacation every year to visit their grandfather, but would never admit that truth to his kids, instead, he blamed it on them, like they didn't get excellent grades. 
Also, he would give his kids choices, but there never actually were any. Like asking the children if they want a real cooked egg, or candy egg for Easter, but it always ended up being the fried egg, even though the kids chose candy.    

Such a straightforward explanation for intermarriages and the caste system was given by Dr. Apte, Peter's frequent forced visitor: "The tradition of marrying one's own caste is not as unscientific as you may think. The country has so many cultures, religions, languages, customs... Bad enough, marriage is a major adjustment, but if you have to adjust to more - language, religion, customs - the chance at success is really challenged."  

The heartbreak of the marriage proposal scene was felt, how Anna reacts to Peter discovering love, thinking love conquers all, and telling him the brutal truth, yet in a kind a way as possible. He said he'd protect her from being assaulted for being at a pub, and asked if Canada doesn't have such issues, too? 
Anna responded it's not the way it is for her (women, minorities) in Canada. Peter thought he could be free in Canada too, but Anna broke it down to him finally as " ...they (her parents) realize they came as immigrants and settled as exiles.That is survival, Peter. That is not living." Powerful stuff. 

I received my copy of A Matter of Geography from Mosaic Press. 

Until next time,


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