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The Two Krishnas

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  • Posted September 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Searingly Powerful Novel

    Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla houses magic in his eyes, or in his hands or in his brain. This young writer, born in Mombasa, Kenya, understands his Indian culture and how to imbue the scents and flavors and passions and traditions of that culture into a contemporary novel that not only brings the reader to the appreciation of all that, but also tackles universal issues such as the cauterizing brand of familial roots, the many forms of love, infidelity, dysfunctional father/son relationships, aspects of Hindu and Muslim beliefs, and the cycle of life - and of death. He writes with such fluid prose that each page approaches a lapse into poetry. Not only is his story one which defies the reader to pause before the complex story plays out, but it also informs us of the myriad aspects of immigration and the sense of being dispossessed. In short this is a compelling novel that not only grows into our psyche but also quietly changes the way we perceive the injustices around us. Rahul and Pooja Kapoor fled their home in Kenya (there is a separate section in the book that explains their extirpation) and settled in Los Angeles where they had a son Ajay and Rahul became a banker. Pooja happily accepted her role as wife and mother and in reproducing the culinary finery of Indian cuisine both at home and for a restaurant/shop, The Banyan. run by her dear friend Charlie and his runner Greg who prefers to be called Parmesh due his desire to be of Indian rather than Jewish heritage. The story begins some years after their arrival when Ajay has become a healthy hunk of a lad looking for a college. Rahul has grown distant - his relationship with Ajay borders on formal and his attention to his beautiful wife's needs has waned. Pooja yearns for the sensuality of the early days of their marriage but finds solace in looking after her handsome son, her cooking, and her friend Sonali - a flamboyant neighbor friend who loves to gossip. Rahul is an atheist and has divorced himself from his past. He bears a strange inner longing that surfaces in a bookstore when he makes eye contact with a handsome storekeeper Atif, a Muslim from Mumbai who seems comfortable with his life: Atif is the age of Rahul's son Ajay. The look is returned and shortly the two men discover their sensual feelings and begin an affair. Rahul attempts to keep both sides of his emotional life alive - he is still devoted to Pooja and Ajay but for the first time since a tragic childhood experience he is in touch with his sexuality. Pooja notes the growing distance between them but it is not until Sonali spies on Rahul and Atif in embrace that Pooja must face the fact that her husband has found love with a man. The manner in which Pooja and Rahul cope with the change winds into an ending that is profoundly surprising. One of the many gifts of Dhalla is his comfortable manipulation of Hindu words and customs and aromas and traditions: he weaves a multifaceted mandala that teaches the readers so much about Indian culture. He also surveys many of the beliefs and myths of Hinduism that offer explanations of human behavior, including sexuality, that is very well considered and informative. His dialogue is peppered with influences from Muslim thought (from Atif) and Hindu thought (from Pooja): it is also smoothly sophisticated in construction in a way that makes his very sensual love scenes excitingly poetic and credible. There is so much in this novel to mesmerize the reader that words in a review falter.

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