I received the book “India Was One” from the author, without cost, in exchange for a fair and honest review. This was actually many weeks ago, and I received it as an eBook. Now, I must tell you, I am not an eBook fan! I can see the value in them for travelers, for people who commute to work via public transport, and even for students, and other situations, but for me – not so much!! But, just as a general point – I am doing some reading of eBooks off my laptop, having installed a free eReader to do so. It is hard to curl up with a good laptop after a long day, but I am trying….!!
Why am I telling you this?
Well, when I did get the opportunity to begin to read “India Was One”, it was as the eBook the author had graciously sent to me. Now by this time, I had previously read and reviewed a few eBooks – books which at the time, were not yet available in print. “India Was One” was available in print. So, of course, I had that in the back of my mind! But, I proceeded with the eBook. However, and that’s a big ‘however’, I did not even get through the first chapter of “India Was One”, when I knew this book needed to be in my hands, in print, for my experience of it to be complete. So, I purchased a print copy! Sorry, an Indian, I did not mean to slight your gift. I just knew, with that sixth sense about good books, that this book was going to be something magical. And it was.
So, back to the beginning……
The first thing I noticed was, of course, the book title: “India Was One”. What did that mean? India was one what…..?? And did ‘was one’ mean, defensively, like a child says to a mother: “Well, Sally was one last Halloween, why can’t I be one this Halloween?” Or did it mean: “I was one, a non-believer, but I’m not anymore, I’m a believer now”. And then, the author’s name: an Indian. Not even An Indian, capital ‘A’ on An. But, an Indian, small ‘a’ on an. Wow! I seem to be having problems with this book, and I have not gone farther than the book’s cover! I better turn a page…….
The title mystery was solved by the end of the first chapter. The book opens in the present day, although, being a work of fiction, the actual day does not need identification – at least not in this book. By the end of the first chapter I realized the title “India Was One”, meant that India was intact, it was not split into two, as in North India and South India, it was one – simply India. Or was India one……??
Chapter Two leaps back in time, leaps back to a few years past. A time that finds our heroine, Kaahi, and our hero, Jai, living and attending college in Mumbai. For Kaahi and Jai, it is a time of great learning, good friendships, and a little falling in love! Jai’s circle of friends, Bunty, Subra, and Punk, welcomed the friendship of the new girl, Kaahi. But for Jai, it was love at first sight. One of my favourite lines from the book is Jai’s initial glance of Kaahi. In Jai’s mind he describes how Kaahi is dressed, so simply dressed in jeans and a white shirt, but so stunning, Jai ‘choked on his tea when he saw her’…. Isn’t that beautiful? For me, that line just pulled me completely into Kaahi and Jai’s love story. And by the end of chapter two, their love story is in full bloom.
And that is what this book is – a love story. A love story between a man and a woman, a love story between a people and their country.
The difference is that the love story between a man and a woman progresses easily. Jai and Kaahi finish college, are married, and begin a new life in the United States. The love story between a people and their country is put to the test by the (fictional) split of India into North India and South India. While this has serious implications in the lives of the married couple, it is an obvious threat to India itself. The news of the split takes both Jai and Kaahi by great surprise. It also takes the reader quite by surprise. I will not go into detail, I don’t want to spoil the fun of future readers, but the book incorporates the split of India into Jai and Kaahi’s happy life.
The time frame in this novel is very loose. By that I mean, the author does not specify how much time is passing, it is really left up to the imagination of the reader. For the most part I found this worked very well. However, at times, it seems like a short period of time had passed, but then the writer will say, (for instance), “….for only a few years (had passed).” I found at a couple of those instances, I was quite surprised with the rapid passage of time, as that had not even been hinted at by the author. Some readers may not even notice that, but I found it a little startling. It threw my imagination a little out of whack! However, the loose time frame also contributes to the fast and easy flow of the book – which is a good thing.
The spirit within the storyline itself, combined with the overall style of the author, make this fast flowing book into a bit of an emotional whirlwind for the characters, and for the readers.
One point that I have yet to mention is the structure of “India Was One”. Along with the story narration, there are times when the characters use Hindi phrases as part of their conversations. The reader is treated to the written Hindi word, the Hindi verbal language, plus the English translation. At first I thought this might be distracting, but as I read, I enjoyed this insertion of Indian culture. The other aspect of the book is the addition of what may be deemed as a history commentator. This commentator speaks outside of the story itself, and speaks directly to the reader, offering historical, local, or geographical explanations for what is happening within the storyline.
I realize this may all sound confusing, but I found it actually worked quite well. I enjoyed the addition of Hindi language, and I enjoyed the commentator’s role. I think the novel could be read in several ways: read as is; read in just the English; or read without the commentator (whose words are in italics), but include the Hindi and Hindi translation to English. It adds a unique flavour to the novel.
One other point that needs to be mentioned is the group of the Indian populace where the characters are drawn from. As in other countries, if not in all, India is a country of many classes, split geographically and monetarily, and is a country of various religions. For the most part, these characters are Hindu, and appear to be middle to upper middle class financially. Both are important points to note. The monetary class structure is important, as at times money does not seem an issue to the characters. Their worries do not include how they will pay for something – especially trips and vacations.
One point that I would like to mention centres around faith and spirituality. As a person of faith, I enjoy when faith is incorporated into a novel. Faith can have a welcoming effect on individuals who travel around the world, or just within their own country or city limits. And that effect can assist people who have moved to a new area, assist them by giving them a safe place to be, which is often a place of worship. Mid-way through the story, Jai and Kaahi are still trying to settle in their home in the U.S. Kaahi attends a worship ceremony, and stays for the fellowship held afterwards. In Kaahi’s words: “She had a sense of belonging now”. I have experienced that same emotional response after a move to a new place. We look for places we feel at home. I looked for a place of worship that held familiarity for me, that held a sense of belonging. As did Kaahi. As human beings, countries and religions do not separate us. We all experience similar emotions. It is what binds us together as a world.
When the novel ended, I was a little disappointed! I was not ready for it to end. I wanted the story to continue for many more chapters, and for more character development. Maybe there is a part two on the horizon? an Indian??
I think this novel will be enjoyed by many people, from different walks of life, from different countries, including people from India – whether living in India or living in other parts of the world.
You probably know by now, by this lengthy dissertation, that my rating of this book will be at the high end of the scale – if there is a scale. Personally, I do not like adding a number rating to a book. Especially unique books such as this one, “India Was One”. I will say, I highly recommend this book. It is a good story. The reader will learn something – about the U.S., about India, about people.
One more word – this time about the author: an Indian. The author wants to continue to be anonymous. The author stresses it could be any Indian that has written this book – who exactly that author is should not be necessary information for the reader. I will tell you that I have corresponded with the author, via email, a number of times in the last few weeks – the author has managed to keep his identity concealed. All I know is the bit of information shown at the end of the book. Do I think an anonymous author of a novel works?? I’m not sure. There are plenty of well known poems or catch phrases that are signed “Anonymous”. It works for them.
Does it work here?? I will let you decide.