Ode to Lata

Ode to Lata

5.0 1
by Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla

Banker by day, and denizen of Los Angeles' clubs by night, the protagonist of Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's first novel is navigating between more than just a day job and an active social life.  In Ode to Lata, Ali has left behind a tempestuous childhood in postcolonial Kenya, the overprotective mother who raised him on a steady diet of Hindi cinema, an emotionally


Banker by day, and denizen of Los Angeles' clubs by night, the protagonist of Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's first novel is navigating between more than just a day job and an active social life.  In Ode to Lata, Ali has left behind a tempestuous childhood in postcolonial Kenya, the overprotective mother who raised him on a steady diet of Hindi cinema, an emotionally abusive bisexual lover, and confused memories of his father's violent death at the hands of his mistress.  Now his mother's messages ramble on his answering machine when he wants no one but his one obsession, Richard to call.


Passionate and unflinchingly honest in its narrative, Ode to Lata scavenges the depths of one man's misguided search for love in a world of emotionally-void encounters and tangled memories.  All the while, Alis' story is intertwined with the unraveling of his parents' own doomed relationship and the film music of Bollywood's eminent singer Lata Mangeshkar (Diva of Indian film music and the namesake of the book's title).  And it is this hopelessly romantic music that scores their tormented lives and goads them to pursue love through chaos and ecstasy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Los Angeles, "the natural and human disaster capital of the world," is the setting for Dhalla's debut, an occasionally witty but somewhat stale portrayal of a young banker's fruitless search for love and happiness in the gay ghetto of West Hollywood. Life for Ali, an ethnic East Indian from Kenya, consists of office work by day and vigorous cruising of local hot spots by night. He also spends time nourishing an unhealthy obsession over Richard, his deceptive ex-lover, and avoiding his overbearing mother's telephone calls. But lately, even the dark corners of bars and the ripe, seedy sex clubs fail to bring Ali the pleasure they once did. Beset by feelings of self-loathing, he thinks back on his anxious childhood in Kenya, his sexual relationship with his best schoolmate, Amin, and lush afternoons watching Hindi cinema featuring chanteuse Lata Mangeshka (of the book's title). A sudden visit from his "dramatic Indian mother" results in an emotional standoff pitting proper Kenyan ways against his homosexual lifestyle. When Ali's close friend Salman makes a "life-altering decision" to leave the gay sex scene and abandon their shared circle of friends, Ali considers making the same choice then falls for a brutally honest street hustler. Fond of the ill-tempered, jaded dialogue that makes a lot of campy gay fiction such a devilish indulgence, Dhalla piles it on thick here. While the genre has seen better efforts, this author gets kudos for creating Ali, a chatty, outrageously embittered protagonist. The references to ancient Kenyan mosque culture are enlightening (the language glossary in back is interesting in its own right) and several auxiliary characters stand out, but none of these extras liberate the book from its hackneyed premise. 6-city author tour. (Feb. 28) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Ali is a fairly complex bundle of doubts and neuroses. A native of Kenya but of Indian heritage, he is a banker making a decent living in Los Angeles but also a gay man stumbling through a variety of culture clashes. As he searches for his version of "Mister Wonderful," we learn a lot about growing up in a culture that accepts men sleeping with men as long as they also marry and have children and where the lighter the skin the more value one has. Add to the mix of obstacles an abused, overly protective mother; a father who was killed by his mistress when Ali was five; and Ali's having acquired an abusive bisexual lover by the age of 13. Much more than a "coming out" story, this is a brilliant study of culture, religion, body image, racism, sex, and friendship that cuts to the soul. Dhalla's first novel will touch anyone who has felt out of place, unattractive, and unloved. Highly recommended. T.R. Salvadori, Margaret Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Genre Magazine
Dhalla unapologetically rips the cobwebs out of L.A.'s closet and spins them into an engrossing silk tapestry of life and love.-- Leon Freeman, Associate Editor, Genre Magazine
Detour Magazine
Raw and edgy...Ghalib Dhalla's first novel leaves the reader hungering for more with his witty and poetic storytelling...hauntingly engaging as he pulls you into Ali's world of love and lust, driven by a fierce yet heartfelt quest for inner truth....-- Nora Wong

Product Details

Hungry City Guides
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

The years have nothing to do with aging.   It is the heart that governs that process. It etches out its infliction upon your face like a sketcher dribbling carelessly upon unsoiled paper, leaving irrevocable histories of the wars and wounds endured.


I see old people and I wonder about their wars.   I try to read their faces; their lines of countless frowns and laughs. An attempt to extract some wisdom.  I am sometimes left wondering if someday my hull will reflect my stories but be accompanied by the placidity I see in these people.  That dovish, enlightened quality, that only comes late in life, that allows the thought of love to elicit a melancholy smile rather than crush my heart.


Sitting at my desk, displaced by my need for Richard, such nirvana seemed inconceivable.  Although corporeally I may have been perched there, everything that lived in me, every single atom in my body was in that physically inaccessible realm where Richard thrived. I called my number for the ninth, maybe tenth time that hour, hoping that Richard had called.  There were messages from Salman and Adrian, which I skipped over without even listening, cutting them off in mid-sentence, but not one word from him.  The rest of the time, I just stared away into space, reliving every moment from my night with Richard, trying hopelessly to change the ending of a movie I had seen one too many times.  I was past caring if the people around me witnessed my dementia.  A voice from somewhere: ³Excuse me, young man.  Can you help me?²


Startled, I looked up to find an older man with his cane, holding bank brochures in his hand.  I would¹ve made some excuse and passed him onto someone else, so that I could have remained in my world, but it was too late.  He had already started settling into the chair across from me.  After the perfunctory questions had been answered, we began opening an account.  I tried to focus on the task I was being paid for, but ended up asking him about his life.  Maybe he could say something, impart some pearl of wisdom, that would bring an epiphany; the broken-hearted are a desperate breed looking for signs in everything.


It turned out Mr. Newman had been to Kenya.  In his thirties, he had taken his wife on her dream vacation to Tsavo where she could experience the wildlife that she loved so much in their natural habitat. They had even ridden the railway.  In his wallet, speckled with the dust that had managed to get under the plastic, was a sepia-toned picture of them together, which he proudly showed me.


³That¹s my Naomi,² he said, smiling down at her with undying love and placing the open wallet in my hands.  ³She¹s beautiful!² he said, as if she were waiting for him at home or in the parked car outside.


I was astonished at the metamorphosis.    I looked at the picture and then I looked back at him, an old and shriveled configuration of the strong, young man in the picture. But not on the inside.  Inside he was still ten.


³If Naomi had her way, she would even outlaw zoos,² he said, laughing heartily.  ³Nobody should live in a prison.²


As he slowly and diffidently stretched out of the chair, having made an investment he would probably never live to reap, he lamented about his arthritis; but in his voice was a vigor undefeated by the unjust crippling of his shell. A spirit that felt completely diminished in me. 


³Thank you for coming in, Mr. Newman,² I said, rising to my feet, and suddenly thinking of my grandmother. ³I¹m so sorry you¹re in such pain.²


³That¹s life,² he said, smiling warmly. ³Enjoy your youth.  It will be a long time before you have to worry about such things.²


I smiled at him ingratiated in the reminder of how wonderful it must be to be so young and have a whole lifetime ahead of me.   But my face began to ache and my smile, I was convinced, came across as a contrived failure.  My heart felt tight and sore within me. And I found myself suddenly running to seek cover in the bathroom, as I had been doing frequently, where I could perch over the basin and cry.


When curdling, love was a bastard child noxiously debasing from within.   So I hunched over and put my arms around myself until tears were pressed out from my eyes.   To expel it was the only true remedy.   If I could only learn to live with the vacancy ensuing its procrastinated abortion, but I was no longer sure I knew how to be happy alone.  Six years had gone by.   They told me I was still only a child and yet I felt I was a child only when I had first met him.   Not since then.   Not ever again.


I felt afraid.   Terrified of imagining life without Richard.   Without this madness to contend with for everyday of my life what would I do?   Who would I be? Ali had become the obsessor of Richard.   My every conversation.   My every thought.   My only ambition.  When awake, I spoke of him. About him. As only I could see him.   What promises he had made to me.   And where he had failed in them.


And in my sleep, he came again.   And most of the time we were both silent.   He held me close, and nestled within him, I felt safe and assured again.   Sometimes he made love to me.   And in rousing myself from bed and discovering my semen marked on the sheets, I would enter into the day consumed by a tumult of arousal and shame.


Take all that away and what would be left of me?   It was a death in itself to walk away from the Ali I had so distastefully helped create. And loathe him as I may, it was the only Ali I knew now. How would happiness embrace me after all this time of adulating misery?  I didn't know how the door would open up.   But I knew I had to get out.   Nobody could love their jailor forever.


I looked at my reflection in the mirror above the basin.   I didn't see someone in his twenties.   I saw a man much, much older.   More ravaged than he should be.   The skin around my face was still tight.   There was only the hint of dark circles around my eyes.   My lips were firm and full.   My hair dark and thick.   But it all felt like shellac filming a decaying core.


Is this why Mummy struggled to raise me? So I could learn such pain?  Is this why I was doted upon, bundled from the cold in blankets and kept from grazing my knees of the ground?  Force-fed and fussed over?  So that I could grow up and in losing my heart, trip over and break it into a million fragments?


I felt cracked.   Broken.   Bits of jagged edges stuck outwards from within me and poked me until I winced.   It must have been apparent from my eyes, this bungling collapse of my spirit.   The self-loathing.   The disappointment in myself.  That must be why I meet no one else. Embarrassed by my insufficiency, I averted my eyes from others for fear that they would catch glimpses of my worthlessness.   I looked away before they did. Sometimes I may have stumbled upon the hope that maybe someone would be persistent enough to scale the walls that I had cloistered myself in. But in Los Angeles that doesn't quite happen.   Apparently, we were all waiting for our saviors.


Instead I stood there and looked into the mirror, freshly doused but unable to eliminate the glassiness in my eyes or the swelling around them.   A soul in dire need of absolution from its demons, waiting for an absentee messiah. Nobody was coming anytime soon.   I might as well face up to it.   I was going to have to wake up and realize the task had to be accomplished on my own.


I splashed cold water on my feverish face, unable even to drink it as it gushed forth from the faucet -- Not like Kenya, no.   The sweet waters that I could cup in the palm of my hands and drink.   Straight from the tap. Oh, God, help me find a wayŠLift me out of this.


And like so many times before, I took a deep breath, hoping that when I got back out there, something would be different, Richard might have called. On my desk, I did find an urgent note waiting for me. But it was a message from Richard¹s mother, asking me to call her right away.

              Something had happened.

What People are saying about this

Doug Guinan
Just in case there was any doubt, Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla proves once and for all that West Hollywood just ain't no place for sissies.  Yes, Ode to Lata delivers, reassuringly, all the usual glittering cliches -- the boys, the bodies, the bars -- and those moments will have you squealing in recognition and delight.  But soon Dhalla leads you into far more dangerous territory.  What is really going on with that group of friends you like to call "family?".  Why does the thought of your mother's visit fill you with such shame and longing?  How much of your soul are you willing to give up on those Saturday night sex odysseys?  These and other disturbing questions will haunt you long after you have finished this dazzling, unforgettable novel.-- Doug Guinan, author of California Screaming
Christopher Rice
There are only two things in life worth living for.  Passion and Truth", begins Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's first novel.  Ode to Lata serves up deeply gratifying portions of both.  It is a reinvigorated tale of one gay man's search for love.  Dhalla's undeniable narrative power carries the reader through an emotional terrain where West Hollywood nightclubs and ancient Kenyan mosques stand side-by-side.  His insight into questions of sexuality and race helps craft a universal tale of longing, loss and the capacity for change.  It is a rare, great novel that manages to be both deeply sad and ultimately uplifting.-- Christopher Rice,  author of A Density of Souls and The Snow Garden
Amitava Kumar
At long last, a suitable boy!  This wonderful novel is about Indian writing coming out of the closet.  It is also about being a new American under artificial moonlight.  It has Melrose Place in it, but also Meena Kumari.  A tender, teasing reminder that before there was Hollywood, God made Bollywood, Amen!  Dhalla makes a tasty dish, with chutney on the side.-- Amitava Kumar, author of Passport Photos
Sunaina Maira
Out of the Indo-African Diaspora comes this searingly frank novel that breaks new ground in its portrayal of a coming out journey spanning Kenya and Los Angeles.  Dhalla's writing vividly evokes the losses and also the pleasures of migration, and the oscillation between throbbing desire and aching melancholia as memory and fantasy seduce each other between the sheets and on the dance floor.-- Sunaina Maira, author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City and coeditor of Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America.
Mark Jude Poirer
Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's Ode to Lata is a multicultural gem that transcends all borders of race, ethnicity, and sexuality.  The sharply written story of Ali unravels like a beautiful tapestry, treating the reader to exotic locales and universal longings.-- Mark Jude Poirier, author of Goats.

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Ode to Lata 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very well written story that reveals a struggling soul that wants to be truthful to the world without having to hide his identity. Dhalla has taken us into the depths of a struggling homosexual's soul who is fighting a culture that forbids a homosexual's sexual preference and a people that sacrifice their life to please a community and avoid confrontation and ridicule. At the same time, Dhalla has potrayed a hypocritical society through Ali's experiences in his homeland and community. This book brought sad tears, joy (at the understanding mom's acceptance and love for Ali) and a lot of laughter and giggles at Dhalla's humor brought forth in Ali's bubbly personality. Thumbs up to the mom who raises Ali as a single parent, expects the "norm" as expected in any Indian society, no matter what part of the world, but accepts reality and embraces it. I had to read it in one night. I could not keep it down! More than 5 stars to "Ode to Late" and I hope Dhalla brings us more...