“Best Possible Experience” by Nishanth Injam

Nishanth Injam Nishanth Injam

In the story that provides the title of Nishanth Injam’s debut collection, The Best Possible Experience, a go-getter tour guide creates a new identity for himself and his son to seek opportunities that would otherwise be impossible for low-caste Dalits. Although Mr Lourenco the tour guide has a positive outlook, sometimes his plans don’t turn out as wished. This conflict between hope and reality is prevalent through all of Injam’s stories in the collection.

In this title story, Mr Lourenco dreams that his young son, Alex, will become an airline pilot and at all costs provides Alex with the best education and travel opportunities. Well before Alex was born, Mr Lourenco had created a false background that he and his family were descendants of Portuguese settlers in their hometown of Goa. He also comes up with stories—sometimes real, sometimes not—to entertain the tourists that hire him as their guide.


Queen Catarina of Portugal sent boatloads of órfãs do rei, orphan girls, to the Portuguese state of India, exclusively for the benefit of Portuguese soldiers. These orphan girls, they were white, Catholic, and exceedingly pretty. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, more órfãs do rei arrived than eligible men, and the establishment didn’t want them mixing with Indians. So what they did was they gave some of them postal responsibilities. A certain Lisa was among these girls. Said to be the prettiest of all, she didn’t have a man to marry. After a brief courtship, she accepted a marriage proposal from an Indian working at the post office.


Alex as a young boy struggles to decipher his father’s truth from his tall tales. In the end he does grow up to become an airline pilot, yet he only appreciates his father after it’s too late.


The Best Possible Experience: Stories, Nishanth Injam (Pantheon, June 2023)
The Best Possible Experience: Stories, Nishanth Injam (Pantheon, June 2023)

“Lunch at Paddy’s”, another father and son story, features twelve year-old Vikas, a new immigrant who invites a white classmate over for lunch. Paddy, as the father Padmanabham goes by in the US, panics when he hears this news. What will the family serve the classmate? The boy surely won’t like Indian food, they conclude. Paddy is caught off guard so soon after the family arrives in the US.


The move had been rough on the kids; they moped around the house and cried a fair bit, and so he’d advised them to make friends in school. The advice was no more than a day old; he had assumed Vikas and Niharika would befriend desi kids first and then slowly branch out. None of them knew how to survive more than five minutes of conversation in English, let alone an entire meal. And now Vikas had signed them up for this test.


The story that begins the collection takes on a supernatural tone when a call center worker takes a journey on an overnight bus in “The Bus”. It begins when the narrator finds a bus that has a bathroom, unlike most of the other buses that leave from Bengaluru.


The bus is a luxury coach, dark brown from the outside. It has a thirty-two-inch TV and reclining seats and air-conditioning, all of which make me think: What a good deal. It’s the Diwali weekend and every long-distance coach is full of techies going home. Securing a ticket was impossible, but then I came across a new office at the back of the bus station, a travel company by the name of Alphonso Tours, and they made it happen.


When something seems too good to be true, there’s usually a reason for it. As the narrator soon learns, other passengers on the bus begin to disappear. He seems to be the only one who realizes what’s going on and he finds it almost impossible to warn others when they don’t believe him. Again, one’s hope does not always match one’s reality.

Injam’s debut is reminiscent of other collections from Te-Ping Chen and Jamil Jan Kochai: all feature well-developed characters and include a strong sense of place, whether in Asia or the United States.

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.