Naeem Murr's "A Perfect Man" may be an affirmation by the author that this, much- sought-after 'perfect' being, doesn't exist. The novel centerspreads, highlights, and near celebrates the frailty of man; almost as if saying there is no way a man can be perfect because then, he'd be god, and 'life' would cease to happen. Isn't it the foibles and the shortcomings of man that make up what we call life? The rage, the vendetta, the jealousy, and the betrayal, are but some of the colorful etchings of man on the landscape of life as he prances his way through it, and Murr takes us through the many prancings of men in the 1950s in Pisgah, a small town on the Missourie River. Raj(ive) Travers, a half Indian man, happens to be one of those men. The novel is a coming-of-age story of Rajive and his two friends Annie and Lew who live in Pisgah, a small town, that on the surface appears mute and placid, but has repeatedly proved vulnerable and has many brutal skeletons to hide.
Raj's identity is what intrigues the reader at the outset; what is a British-accented, black male, who is not a 'negro', doing in the back waters of Missourie in the 1950s? This is the hook that Mr. Murr throws at the reader, and the hook is obviously sharp and strong as it carries the reader through the first half of the book with a quiet ease. However, it is more than just luring and colorful charcterization that sustains the reader's interest; Naeem Murr's writing has a poetic quality about it that lulls the reader into an easy rhythm that is hard to break out of. His writing is both lyrical and evocative even though the unfolding of the plot is slow and deliberate, almost like that of a suspense novel. It's as if the author is letting go of an engripped reader bit by bit, without releasing the tension.
Mr Murr has laid out a plethora of flawed characters each of who is almost likable because he is so real. Pisgah becomes the stage where human frailty is laid bare but rarely accompanied with blame or judgement. There is the father who abandons his young son, another who is a voyeur and preys even on his teenage daughter, a priest who is a drunkard, a woman who loves one man yet sleeps with another, and men at large who condone lewd and abusive behavior. Naeem Murr's novel casts an indulgent eye on all of them and lets life happen; there is rape, racism, infidelity, brutality, suicide, and depravity of the worst kind, yet it is all so acceptable and so normal in Pisgah.
"The Perfect Man" is a strange but compelling read that unfolds with unexpected twists and turns and makes for some engrossed reading. As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed this read, especially the epistolary exchange between Annie and Raj toward the end of the book which made me ponder on the title. Who is Murr's "Perfect Man", or is he a chimera, an eternal work- in- progress? Is he perhaps the evolved, tested, and tried Rajive of the M.I.T fame who we see at the end of the novel?
"No matter how great an idea...it is condemmed to live and find its ultimate expression through indiduals, character". These words of Murr may help us answer the question...perhaps.
Ms. Umrigar's "The Space Between Us" left too large a space between reality and fiction for the reader to suspend his disbelief and lose himself in the book. The novel is about the life and relationships of and between two older women at opposite ends of the economic spectrum in Mumbai, a metropolitan city in Western India.
Through the life experiences of these two women Thrity umrigar tries to highlight the plight of women in India regardless of and despite their economic status. The oppression of women and their secondary status in a 'progressive' India seems to be the theme of the novel; a theme that loses punch due to the pervasive and unending gloom that engulfs the story. There is no respite whatsoever!
The two main female characters, Bheema and Sera, though survivors in a male-dominated world, are not convincing, and very often the reader has to take the narrators word to believe in their strength and fortitude. The male characters follow in the same pattern and are stereotypical male chauvanists, some covert and others wearing their male pride on their sleeve. Maya, the young pregnant daughter of Bheema, the servant woman in Sera Dubash's household, is perhaps the only character who stands ground, and only because Ms. Umrigar did not have much to do with her! Maya the character is sidelined by the author; yet, it is she who leaves a lasting impact on the reader.
To be fair to the writer, "The Space Between Us" was well received by the public when it was published in 2005. However, I chose to read it for the lack of having anything better to read. If that is not the case with you, then, you may perhaps want to pass this one.
Sania Mirza reached the third round of the US Open where she lost to the world sixth seed Chakvetadze of Russia, but not before she proved her mettle both as a classy tennis player ranked 26th in the world and as a gutsy woman who will not dwindle under social pressures.
Ms. Mirza is undoubtedly one of a kind, in that she is the first female Indian to have made it in the first 50 of the WTA rankings and also the only Muslim woman to represent a country in international tennis. This sprightly young star who believes, "You have to find a way to win,"comes from Hyderabad, a city with a Muslim population large enough to make Urdu a second language in that Indian city. Sania enjoys immense celebrity status in India, more so in Hyderabad where she grew up and now resides. She has personal security guards that move with her anywhere she goes, and this is perhaps why she loves NY so much where this 20 year old can still shop incognito.
Over the last few years, Sania Mirza has been the focus of the Indian community, and it's partly because she openly professes: "Not everyone is perfect and just because I wear a miniskirt or just because I'm wearing pants or whatever it is doesn't make me a bad Muslim,...As long as I believe in God and I have my faith, I think that's good.". There were those in the community who censured her for her outspokenness, her dress code, and her participation in world tennis, but then there were also those who staunchly supported Sania as a great role model for Indian Muslim girls, who reportedly are still under represented in sports around the country. Ms. Mirza has faced accolades and brickbats like you can't imagine, but she still sports the same impish grin along with the 'I don't care' swagger that mark her for who she is : a female athlete ready to compete globally.
All credit is due to young Mirza for having stood her ground through some testing times in a world so clearly divided along religious lines, but something is also to be said about the country and its citizens that bore and bred a Sania Mirza. The fact that she has come thus far in the tennis world implies an inherent support for her and what she does from within the family, the community, and the country. Ms. Mirza's family, the Indian Muslim community, and Indians in general; you are truly deserving of credit for a job well done!