I've been invited to join a new book group and this is the first selection.
The book is a delicious collision of cultures: British & Indian. We start out with snippets of stories of the retired population struggling to fit in. Their families have no time for them. Their retirement homes are falling apart. Their friends are dying. Their lives are shriveling.
In walk 2 cousins: One distinctly English doctor whose skin colour tells the story of his family's immigration to Great Britain; the other a man struggling to carve out his fortune in the teeming metropolis of Mumbai. Neither really fond of the other.
Over a rushed coffee in an anonymous hotel in Bayswater the 2 decide to go into business milking the British colonial history of India and open up a care home in Mumbai for the older generation of Great Britain. They figure the weather is nicer and the staff cheaper. The British have failed to take care of their senior citizens and India can do a much better job of it. What they fail to take into account is the emotional baggage these older people will carry with them when they move in.
If you're not British you might find this completely implausible. Who in their golden generation is going to up sticks and move to a third world country? Well, the British would. Undoubtedly! After just a few well placed advertisements and the gentle persuasion of the doctor, a small gaggle of older folks begin the adventure of their lives. And yet regardless of location, death is inevitable and life is inescapable.
I loved this book. It is funny without being obvious. The elderly characters are painted with care and empathy, never once descending into mockery or cheap laughter.
Shortly after reading this book, Marc & I went and saw the film, Slumdog Millionaire, about a young man, Jamal, who grew up orphaned in the slums of Mumbai and goes on to win the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Jamal is arrested and charged with cheating. The movie maps his extraordinary life which gave him all the answers he needed to win.
I couldn't help but feel that after reading this book and seeing this film, that I am witnessing the birth of a new empire. This is more than the slick consumerism witnessed in Japan in the 1980s. India is a vast country with vast resources and is on the brink of greatness.
Book Group Verdict: If you can believe this, I forgot to go. It completely slipped my mind and after a wicked week at work I fell asleep on the sofa without even giving the book group a second thought. I've never ever done that before. I've apologised profusely and am hoping they will forgive my dodgy memory and let me come next time!