Balli Kaur Jaswal’s teasingly entitled and intricately plotted novel incorporates multiple storylines with elements of rom-com, mystery, and family saga. The main protagonist, Nikki, is a 22-year-old, single, independent-minded university drop-out in London. She lives alone above the pub where she works while she searches for her calling, and for love. In the way of adult children everywhere, she is breaking her parents’ hearts with her choices. But her parents are Punjabi immigrants to Britain, and so as well as negotiating all the usual intergenerational pitfalls, Nikki must also negotiate diverging cultural expectations, both between herself and her family, and also between herself and the wider Punjabi community.
Two interesting phenomena intersected at the turn on the last century. Just as Indian women were becoming globally visible as winners of several international beauty pageants, the racialized body (non-white, brown, along with Arab) became visible as the Other in the aftermath of 9/11. This stark polarity marks the subject of a new book on South Asian diaspora community that studies how appearances make and unmake attitudes about beauty and what sort of people become public icons.
At first glance, this award-winning epic is off-putting. First published in Hindi in 1979, the new English translation is some 452 pages long without the maps, glossary or translator’s notes required to read it. Perseverance, however, yields rewards in the shape of an all-encompassing sweep through pre-partition India, its many-faceted society and richly hued landscapes.
Hungry Bengal is the story of Bengal’s man-made famine in 1942 which killed two million people over a period of eighteen months to two years, all while Imperial Britain’s leaders in London looked on unconcerned. It was the British who provided both direct and indirect causes of the famine. When the War with Japan broke out the “little yellow men” proved far doughtier warriors than ever envisaged by Whitehall. British troops were swept aside as the fortress of Singapore fell and the Japanese swept northwards through Burma towards Imperial India.