The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan

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The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Culture clashes, familial upsets and personal struggles as first & second generation immigrants from India into the US try to reconcile their past with their hopes for the future. In the traditions of Bollywood it is light and frothy, filled with tradition and wisdom, romance and a touch of sentiment. And the food is more than just a bonus. You should definitely buy rather than borrow if you're a cook.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747578840

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Kiran Deshpande has a moment of revelation in Victoria's Secret dressing room... 32 years old, of immigrant Indian parents and an Italian ex-husband, she suddenly realises what she wants more than anything in the world is to be a mother. "Not one day, if and when I ever fall in love again, but now. While I still have my youth dammit."

This comes as something of a shock to the modern gypsy who defied her traditional Indian parents to marry her rock star, and then refused to accept the inevitable infidelity and divorce him. What will be a shock to her parents is her proposed solution... a return to the tradition: she will go home and ask if it's not too late for them to arrange a marriage.

Arriving unannounced just before Christmas she lands in a full scale meeting of the Hindi Bindi club. The core of the club comprises Kiran's mother Meenal and her friends Saroj Chawla and Uma Basu McGuinness. Three women who all arrived in Boston, Massachusetts fresh from the subcontinent in the 1960s. Through the years they have shared the struggle to make their new lives in America, whilst maintaining very differing traditions from their various parts of India: Maharastra, Bengal, the Punjab. As they married and moved, they kept up their meetings gathering for food, to read books and watch movies. In the process the three daughters were expected to become similarly close... but while Kiran and Rani formed a bond almost from the outset, Preity was always too perfect for Kiran in particular to live with.

It was the girls who christened the Hindi Bindi club... from their mothers' tendency to use the more universal Hindi to each other, rather than their own local mother tongues, and the fact that - despite their westernisation in many ways, they occasionally chose to wear the Bindi, that third eye which originally denoted the married status of womanhood, but in some cultures is also applied as part of the blessing, and is now just as often no more than a fashion statement.

Whilst Kiran struggles to maintain her demeanour with her father who has yet to forgive her first marriage, and gain the courage to unveil her plan, there is something else lurking in the background... a something that Kiran must be told.

Preity will also be home for the holidays and Rani will make it by New Year... so they will be together again. All the old friendships and insecurities on display. Cool!

Pradhan introduces us to each of her main characters in turn - giving them alternate chapters in which to tell their stories. This device, no longer novel, doesn't work for all writers. The voices have to be clear, distinct and separate, while the stories they tell must mesh into a single narrative, where the edges blur into the whole picture. Pradhan manages it well. The daughters speak with vibrant western tones, their Hindi or Marathi words scarce and always translated (loosely)... the mothers scatter much more liberally their linguistic heritage and often leave the words to sink or swim on their own account. At the same time all of the women are modern... the contrast between the generations is smoothed by each of the parents being professional in their own way, modern enough to e-mail each other, and to be part of the world of their daughters to a large-enough extent for real interchange to be possible in a way that would be less believable in the case of the displaced elder struggling with the modern free-thinker.

The book follows the months of Kiran's search for a new husband merely as a timeline upon which to hang the telling of the tales of how each of them 'got here' and where they want to go next. Memories of India, of the joys of monsoon and the pain of partition. Stories of long ago-love-affairs and enduring marriages. Secrets kept, and those that must be shared. Hopes for the future.

This is chick-lit of the best kind. Cultural clashes and familial ones. Passion and restraint. Pain and laughter. All of it told with a light flourish. Add in a touch of politics, feminism and historical comment. Stir with a dash of Eastern wisdom. Use Western aphorisms to balance. Scatter with fairy dust and the hope of a happy-ever-after. It's an indisputably 'girly' kind of a book... one to share in chatter and gossip rather than intellectual debate. One to keep. One - not necessarily to re-read, for the twists of the story will only charm you the once, I suspect - but one to re-use, because each chapter starts with Indian quotes and proverbs and snippets of poetry - which deserve to be treasured and followed up - through the stories themselves enlighten with cultural and historical references (ditto) - and ends with recipes, which deserve to be tried out and played with.

Food is one of the mainstays of the Hindi Bindi club. In all cultures except the mongrel British, food is a mainstay: what you eat, and when, how you eat, how it's cooked and for whom are all laden with significance in a way that is truly exotic to the Brits brought up on staples and only in the late twentieth century beginning to realise what they'd missed. It is an exotic that reaches its greatest expression in the myriad cultures of India... Of course the subcontinent is such a vast place, that one should indeed consider the states as one would countries of Europe and downplay the variety as a result... but even so. Ah, perhaps I'm biased. Too much a quick-cook to make real Indian food, I still love to walk into a kitchen, or past a restaurant redolent with those spiced aromas and my speedy-versions (praised as they sometimes are) continue to teach me to slow down and to, one day, learn how to do it properly.

Pradhan's recipes creep in naturally, because Meenal is still trying to teach Kiran the ways of the kitchen, and now Kiran is willing to learn. But all of the characters have favourites or memories; every occasion has an alimental tradition... passing mentions are translated into tempting invitations.

Which just leaves the problem of whether this copy of the book should find its way onto the book shelf or into the kitchen cupboard?

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you enjoyed this book then you might also enjoy Katie Fforde's Going Dutch or for a book of excellent Indian recipe's you might like to try India with Passion by Manju Malhi.

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Buy The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan at


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