Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook
Soothing cover design makes you pick up the book Henna for the Broken-Hearted, and you want to know what brought the author to India and more importantly settle down here. You start reading and before you know you have finished reading the book. No, it is not a small book to read. But it has been written pretty engagingly. You breeze through it without realizing the time you have spent on it.
It is a personal memoir of a young Australian who came to India to take time off from her marriage that was falling apart. She chose to be a volunteer in Kolkata for few weeks. Here she gets to meet and interact with a few Indians at her workplace. But she makes friends with a whole lot of expats in Kolkata. Goes pub hopping and late night partying, a typical western way of dealing with the stressful situations. The beginning seems very inspired by Eat, Pray, Love. The rest of the saga is different though, she finds the right man for her in India and does not have to go country-hopping to find him. And in fact, the man becomes her reason to move base to India.
What Sharell has captured very well are the dilemmas that she dealt with at every point in time in her journey. The decision to come back to India, to run a beach guest house, to move to Mumbai, to meet her boyfriend’s family, to choose between a developed Australia and an underdeveloped India and on top of that filthy Mumbai, to decide how much to become an Indian to be a part of the in-laws family while falling in love with a man and the country.
She has also described some of the situations that are most difficult to cope up with for a foreigner in India. Like using Indian style toilets, using buckets for bathing instead of showers etc. Sometimes she gets too graphical about how to deal with them. She shares her annoyances like interfering neighbors and hitting males with the readers. Which I think is something lot of independent females face not just the foreigners. But I am sure the extent is different as they stand out in the crowd and are more vulnerable. You do admire her courage and conviction to do what she felt like doing, though the rational wisdom suggested otherwise. To move from a well-defined cushioned life to a life where you live by the moment and that too in a new place is not easy.
Sometimes you wonder what is it that makes this woman stick to India. She has a comfortable life in her country. Is she moving only for love? Did she ever talk to her partner about moving to Australia that would have been an easier option for both of them? I think she could have brought more clarity to this aspect of why she chose to be here. She is not the only one choosing India today, there are many from various parts of the world who choose to be here, sometime to find a meaning and sometimes because economists predict India to be the next place to be in. She does manage to get an exact job that she wants, but she chooses not to talk much about it the way she talks about other aspects of her personal life.
Language of Henna for the Broken-Hearted is simple but engaging and has a flow to it. Author’s experience of being a travel writer obviously comes in handy here. There is a lot of explanation of some obvious things in India. I believe the book has been written with the Australian audience in mind, this can be annoying for Indian readers. But I guess in this era of globalization, we have to learn to live with the translations all the time. I think the book could have been a bit smaller, some places she goes overboard with details that do not interest the reader though obviously, it would have been important to her. At times I felt it was like a cathartic writing as she talks more about the lows than about the highs and given her decision to stay back highs must have been more than the lows.
Overall an interesting light book to read…