As Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan
It was the soothing cover with a texture of honey that prompted me to pick up this book As Sweet as Honey. I am happy I did that. Indira Ganesan tells a simple story that moves between three continents including a fictional island that exists somewhere closer to Sri Lanka, follows more or less Tamil culture but is not a part of India. A tale that travels about a decade in the life of a perceived traditional extended family on this island of Pi.
It is primarily narrated through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. Who lives with her maternal grandmother’s house. As her parents pursue their dreams in America. Sometimes the narration takes an anonymous third voice but the flow continues. There are cousins, aunts, uncles living in a huge grandmother’s house, including an aunt who is too tall. And most of the story actually revolves around her unusual life. Begins with the most unusual part of it – her getting married. And getting widowed on the same day. Simultaneously discovering that she is pregnant. All this while she was marrying not someone from Pi but someone from England.
The sensitive portrayal of the events that follow continues till she marries again. And then follows the portrayal of her adjusting to the new life. The author suddenly introduces a supernatural element. While you are expecting something, she adds another element. And the story continues till it lands back at Pi. With all cousins, uncles, and aunts gathering once again for a reunion or for a marriage.
At one level it is the story of an unusual girl with unusual height and name. And how she moves in life, adjusts and still manages to get what she wants. At another level, it could be the story of most large Indian families that once upon a time lived in huge houses in small villages. Where the responsibilities were shared as were the resources. And it was perfectly fine for the kids to not live with their parents only. The large family provided support to everyone to pursue their dreams.
Sometime in the second half of the 20th CE, the children started pursuing studies in the west. And eventually chose to settle there. Leaving only the older generation back and their only link to their hometown. The family slowly gets spread across the globe as different members move to different places. Where they struggle for a while to find a foot but finally get absorbed. At another level, it is a story of how the families adapt themselves to changing world. By letting some members break the tradition and still stay by their side. It is also the story of a young girl, the narrator who watches all this primarily as an observer as she grows from an adolescent in Pi to a young girl in America.
The story is bound to take you back to your village, to its smells, to its aromas, to its sounds. And to that grandmother who was always there to share a story or to sing a song.
Read As Sweet as Honey, if you like simple yet sensitive portrayals. And if nostalgia is something you enjoy.