Maya Runningby Anjali Banerjee
Maya Mukherjee doesn’t fit in. She was born in India and her parents moved to Canada when she was a baby. Now it’s the 1970s, and she’s a middle schooler in Manitoba, land of moose and snow. She wants to run on the tundra beneath the Northern Lights, make igloos or snow-angels, see John Travolta, and ride elephants through the Bengal jungle the way… See more details below
Maya Mukherjee doesn’t fit in. She was born in India and her parents moved to Canada when she was a baby. Now it’s the 1970s, and she’s a middle schooler in Manitoba, land of moose and snow. She wants to run on the tundra beneath the Northern Lights, make igloos or snow-angels, see John Travolta, and ride elephants through the Bengal jungle the way her great-grandfather did. Then her gorgeous cousin Pinky comes from India for a visit, bringing a statue of the god Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles. Maya asks Ganesh to remove all obstacles to her dreams. Like most wishes, it backfires in hilarious and painful ways. Maya must journey across continents to restore the truth and find out who she is.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Random House Children's Books
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.62(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
D Dr. Ghose's mouth blows Bengali bubble-words, which the boys understand. I can tell by the way their bodies shift, the way they nod at the right moments. Bengali is part of their lives, like combing oil through their glistening hair or praying to Hindu gods.
Envy digs into me, a craving to understand Bengali.
"Baba, I'm not hungry," Sahadev whines, pushing the glasses up on his nose.
"Me either, I want to play," says Vishnu, the great god with his underwear showing.
"Ah, come, you love samosas, homemade, lovely, lovely," Dad says from the doorway. He does the Indian sideways head nod around Indian friends. It's like Halloween. He wears his Canadian costume for Canadians, the Indian costume for Indians.
As Indian tradition dictates, the children eat first. Mrs. Ghose and Mum hover in the background, filling plates and glasses. I sit very still and eat with knife and fork, keeping my elbows off the table, while the boys stuff their faces with their hands, smearing dahl around their mouths.
The adults' voices fade into a murmur of blood rushing in my ears.
"Look at Mayasri," Mrs. Ghose says. "She is being so good. Why can't you boys be so good? She is an example for you. Maya, have more rice and dahl? So thin you are. You are not eating. Kamala, has she become thin?"
This is what Indians say even if you weigh a thousand pounds. I am Skinny Future-Girl with buckteeth and braces.
"She keeps quite busy," Mum says. "Ballet, skating, cross-country skiing--"
"All those extracurricular activities? And her studies? She is doing well?"
"Quite well. Highly commended."
I am on display.
"Boys, Mayasri excels in her studies, dances the ballet and what are you doing? Playing video games. Lazy boys." Mrs. Ghose whacks Vishnu on the head hard enough to knock a chunk of samosa from his mouth. He grabs a spoon to fish a pakora from his glass of milk.
"She also plays the piano quite well," Mum says.
Mrs. Ghose's eyes nearly pop out of her head. "She will give the boys lessons?"
I want to say No, thank you, I won't give your irritating great god any stupid piano lessons.
"If she has time." Mum frowns, allowing me this much. Next to Mrs. Ghose, Mum looks young and slim and beautiful. She doesn't seem comfortable either. I bet she wants to run home and tear off the sari. But she's Indian. She grew up in Calcutta. She can speak the language, make Bengali food, and wear a bindi on her forehead. She can fit in if she wants to.
My throat closes over a lump of dry rice. A terrible idea occurs to me. This supper is a setup. Mrs. Ghose wants me to marry either Sahadev or Vishnu in one of those arranged marriages. Why else would I be here? I'll have to run away.
Now all the grown-ups crowd into the humid kitchen. I'm trapped in a Bengali movie without subtitles. As they talk, everyone laughs and cries at the right parts, while I sit clueless in the middle.
"Yes?" I look up and blink. I have accidentally disappeared inside myself again. Mrs. Ghose--Auntie Mitil--stands across the table, staring.
I glance down, thinking maybe I dropped curry on my T-shirt. Everyone stares. Conversation dribbles down a drain. I wait for the marriage plan.
Mum has gone into the other room with Dad and Dr. Ghose. They're discussing a brass table imported from India.
Mrs. Ghose repeats the phrase in Bengali. A question.
My throat goes dry. I nod. Maybe a yes will suffice, or a shake of my head, but still she stares.
Sahadev throws a pakora at Vishnu's head, and the great god sticks out his tongue, letting a slop of chewed glop fall on his plate. Sahadev says Ew and snorts milk out his nose. The boys break into gales of laughter while Mrs. Ghose smiles with affection, her expression saying You boys will fetch a huge dowry someday.
That's the way things are in India. The girl moves into the boy's house and dumps loads of money on his family. This is one reason I think Dad wishes I was born a boy, his first and only child. What he doesn't know is I will never get married, so he won't have to worry about going broke.
This time Mrs. Ghose hurls the question, a spear with a poison tip.
Sickness comes to my stomach. I gulp. "I--don't--speak--Bengali."
Sahadev stops his spoon in midair. Vishnu closes his mouth. Mrs. Ghose's eyebrows fuse, pulling her face toward its center.
"Bangla bola na!" Slowly she shakes her head. Pity drips from her voice. "Ah, Maya."
"She doesn't speak Bengali?" Sahadev gazes up at his mother in disbelief.
"She doesn't, stupid," Vishnu hisses across the table.
"Why?" Sahadev stares at me.
I say nothing. My parents like to have their own secret language. In the other room, they shift easily back and forth between Bengali and English.
"What was your question?" My voice comes out way too Canadian. My words slide and bump into each other.
I don't belong here. I imagine saying Excuse me, it's rude to speak in front of me as if I'm not even here, and we're not in India anymore, we're in Canada now. I imagine getting up, walking out into the snow, hitching a ride home.
But I sit stupidly in my chair.
"Bangla bola na!" Mrs. Ghose's voice fills with wonder, as if I'm a rare shooting star. She turns and throws papadum to sizzle on the stove.
The matter is closed.
Sahadev and Vishnu return to their play fighting. I sit stunned, my mind whirling.
"Can I use your washroom?" I ask, nearly choking. Nobody replies. I say louder to Sahadev, who sits closest, "Washroom!"
He points to the door. "Upstairs."
I dash for solitude across the green shag carpet and up the stairs. Voices and sitar music drift from the lower level. For a short time, nobody will miss me. I stop to catch my breath and notice old yellowed photographs on the hallway walls. The Ghose ancestors gaze from their finery, flowing silk saris and heaps of jewelry. They sit in ornate chairs in palatial rooms. Wealth trickles from their shoes. How could these Ghoses have come from those Ghoses?
I wonder about my ancestors. Who were they? My great-grandfather was conservator of forests for Bengal, wrote volumes about the flora of Assam. My grandmother opened a university for women and then died of pleurisy in the Himalayas. She was only thirty-eight. My parents crossed the Atlantic when I was two months old, and here I am. These snippets of knowledge are puzzle pieces strewn across a table, waiting to make a picture.
I peek into a bedroom through an open door. One thing about me--I can be nosy when nobody's around. There's a double bed between two nightstands. On the chest of drawers sits a large wood carving of a many-armed god with an elephant's head and a rotund belly. Plates filled with candy surround him. The elephant's round face is kind, caring. A glow of comfort infuses me. Staring into the jolly elephant face, I could swear that he is alive, watching me.
"Lord Ganesh," Dr. Ghose says from behind me, "Remover of Obstacles. Very fond of sweets. Consult him in times of difficulty, but be careful. He's a bit of a trickster. Always playing jokes."
I turn, heat rising in my cheeks. "I--was just looking for the washroom."
Dr. Ghose points down the hall and smiles.
From the Hardcover edition.
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