First Darling of the Morning
  • First Darling of the Morning
  • First Darling of the Morning

First Darling of the Morning

4.5 4
by Thrity Umrigar

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First Darling of the Morning is the powerful and poignant memoir of bestselling author Thrity Umrigar, tracing the arc of her Bombay childhood and adolescence from her earliest memories to her eventual departure for the United States at age twenty-one. It is an evocative, emotionally charged story of a young life steeped in paradox; of a middle-class Parsi girl

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First Darling of the Morning is the powerful and poignant memoir of bestselling author Thrity Umrigar, tracing the arc of her Bombay childhood and adolescence from her earliest memories to her eventual departure for the United States at age twenty-one. It is an evocative, emotionally charged story of a young life steeped in paradox; of a middle-class Parsi girl attending Catholic school in a predominantly Hindu city; of a guilt-ridden stranger in her own land, an affluent child in a country mired in abysmal poverty. She reveals intimate secrets and offers an unflinching look at family issues once considered unspeakable as she interweaves two fascinating coming-of-age stories—one of a small child, and one of a nation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Freelance journalist Umrigar alternates between sweet and biting accounts of her middle-class Parsi upbringing in 1960s and 1970s Bombay. With a mixture of rawness and warmth, she recalls moments from her tumultuous childhood through her teenage years, and finally into her early 20s when she leaves India for the U.S. She describes her mother's strictness with her and other children (her mother doesn't think twice to strike disobedient kids with a cane), tempering these scenes with memories of the tight bond with her father as well as her Aunt Mehroo's unflappable love. As she encounters worker strikes and student protests, she begins to understand class differences and the gap between her privileged, private school background and India's poverty. In the end, Umrigar's memoir is colorful and moving. (Nov.)

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Library Journal

Umrigar's fictional works (Bombay Time; The Space Between Us; If Today Be Sweet) evoke nostalgia for a particular moment in India: the postcolonial but still preliberalization 1960s and 1970s, the period of Umrigar's childhood in Bombay. Persuasively re-creating voices and scenes, this memoir (first published in India in 2004) could almost be read as another novel. Umrigar builds a literary bridge between personal and historical truths. As she traces her over-the-top Parsi family life, complete with sadistic mother and Anglophile convent school against the backdrop of Bob Dylan ("the biggest influence on my life") and disillusionment, Umrigar is narrating not just her personal heartache but also that of a global middle-class cohort. American readers may not understand the Indian political context, but the underlying chords in this story about growing up and going away will certainly resonate. Recommended for all large public libraries as well as academic libraries that collect women's memoirs.
—Lisa Klopfer

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First Darling of the Morning

Chapter One

I am of that generation of middle-class, westernized, citified Indian kids who know the words to Do-Re-Me better than the national anthem. The Sound of Music is our call to arms and Julie Andrews our Pied Piper. It is 1967...Hollywood movies always come to India a year or two after their American release...and the alleys and homes of Bombay are suddenly alive with the sound of music. No matter that the movie has reached us over a year after it is a hit all over the Western world. All the piano teachers in Bombay are teaching their beginner students how to plunk Do-Re-Me until it seems as if every middle-class Parsi household with a piano emits only one tune.

I am six years old and suffer from an only child's fantasy of what life with siblings would be like. The Sound of Music gives flight to that fantasy, provides it with shape and colour. The laughter, the camaraderie, the teasing, the close-knittedness of the Von Trapp family ensnares me, forever setting my standard of what a perfect family should be. The Von Trapps are as light and sunny as my family is dark; they whistle and sing while the adults in my household are moody and silent; the children are as shiny and healthy and robust as I am puny and sickly and awkward. To see those seven children up on that large screen, standing in descending order of age and height, is to see heaven itself. My heart bursts with joy and longing; I want to leave my seat and crawl into the screen and into the warm, welcoming arms of Maria. Take me in, I want to say, give me some time and I will be as witty and playful and musical as the rest of you.

I havealready seen the movie once but now I want to go again. Dad and his brother Pesi, whom I call Babu, decide that the entire family should go see the movie together. As always, my reclusive aunt, Mehroo, refuses to accompany us. 'Come on, Mehroo, it's a nice, wholesome family movie. You will enjoy it,' says my aunt Freny, Babu's wife, but to no avail. Pappaji, my grandfather, has recently had a heart attack and Mehroo refuses to leave him home alone even though he is perfectly mobile.

Mehroo is my dad's unmarried sister who lives with us. The oldest of my dad's two siblings, her childhood ended on the day her mother died. Mehroo was then eleven. Not only were there two younger brothers to raise (my dad, the youngest, was only four) but there was a father to protect from the razor's edge of his own grief. She took over the family duties as though she had been born for that role. Her father was a kindly man but he was so wrapped up in his own sorrow that he failed to notice the sad look come into his daughter's eyes, a sadness that would stalk her for the rest of her life. I suppose that from her father's lasting grief and devotion to his dead wife, from his endless mourning, Mehroo formed her own notions of what love should be. And what family became for her was a profession, a job, a hobby, an avocation. Family was all. Outside of its protective borders lay the troubled world, full of deceit and deceptions and broken promises and betrayals. It was an astonishingly limited worldview but it made her irreplaceable within our family structure.

Mehroo's love for me is legendary throughout the neighbourhood. So are her eccentricities.

She won't go to the amazing feat in a movie-crazy family.

She won't buy new clothes for herself. If someone in the family buys her material for a dress, she will save it for years before she will take it to the tailor.

She uses the same comb even after three of its teeth fall out, until my father finally throws it away in a pique of anger. But she frequently slips money to me when I leave for school.

She is a vegetarian in a household where chicken and meat, being as expensive as they are, are treats. If a spoon that's been in the chicken curry accidentally touches her potato curry, she will not eat it. And yet, she will cook meat for the rest of us.

She will eat food cold from the fridge without warming it up, although she will spend hours in the kitchen cooking for the family.

She refuses to pose for pictures, covering her face with her hands to avoid the camera. When she is compelled (by me, when I'm older) to be photographed, she refuses to smile. Every picture of her shows a serious, unsmiling woman. In some of them, her lips even curl downward.

She is miserly, cheap, teary, sentimental, thin-skinned, fiercely loyal, eccentric, indifferent to the world outside her family and devoted to her loved ones.

How do you solve a problem like Mehroo?

My cousin, Roshan, once mutters that if Mehroo was the next door neighbour, she wouldn't like her very much. The remark tears me up. I fancy that I understand Mehroo, in all of her contradictions, better than anyone else; that somehow I have X-ray vision that allows me access to the innermost chamber of her warm and soft heart. There is something elemental and primitive about my love for Mehroo and when I think of her, I think of her in animalistic terms as a dog or a horse or a giraffe or a zebra, animals with sorrowful, kind eyes.

Now I decide that the movie situation calls for my brand of lethal, irresistible charm. 'Please, Mehroofui, please come,' I beg her. 'Just once, please, for my sake. I love this movie the best of all. You will, too, I promise.'

She shakes her head no, her brown eyes looking at me pleadingly. I sing a few lines from the movie, hoping to entice her that way. But she will not budge.

First Darling of the Morning
. Copyright © by Thrity Umrigar. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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