When Amitava Kumar left Patna, India, he envisioned himself as an up-and-coming citizen of the world, leaving behind the confines of Indian traditions. Yet like the wave of exiles that preceded him, he found that once we leave our past, we are defined by it: in the U.S. he is pigeonholed by his appearance and quizzed about saris and arranged marriages. "There is no beginniWhen Amitava Kumar left Patna, India, he envisioned himself as an up-and-coming citizen of the world, leaving behind the confines of Indian traditions. Yet like the wave of exiles that preceded him, he found that once we leave our past, we are defined by it: in the U.S. he is pigeonholed by his appearance and quizzed about saris and arranged marriages. "There is no beginning that is a blank page," writes Kumar. Circling the three capitals of the Indian diaspora, "Bombay-London-New York" captures the contours of the expatriate experience, touching on the themes of abandonment, nostalgia, and exile that have powered some of the most prominent Indian writers today -- Naipaul, Rushdie, Roy, Kureishi, as well as E.M. Forster and Gandhi. With resonant, poetic language and a storyteller's sensibility, Kumar explores the works of these writers through the lens of his own life as an immigrant and writer. As their fiction reveals, the past of the expatriate is mythical, shaped by memory and loss. With tales of life in India and London and meditations on the form Indian fiction gives to the lives of those who read about it, this is a sweeping, passionate search to find one's own story in the stories of others....
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Bombay--London--New York Reviews
In this book Amitava Kumar parallels the lives of emigrant Indians living in the works of "Indian writers in English" with anecdotes from his own life. Rife with wit and nostalgia this work touches on the "Indian-ness" of the Indian diaspora settled abroad. Being an upcoming citizen of this community I couldn’t help taking trips down my own memory lane when Amitava strolls down his even though our experienceS might be some 30 years apart. The poems were a bit off and I felt that the plot is unstructured at points but I would recommend this book to all Indians who are living abroad or ever wanted to do so.
http://sandyi.blogspot.com/2009/05/bo...This was my first introduction to Amitava Kumar, since I haven't got a chance yet to read his first few books and neither his last release, Home Products. But this particular one left me quite impressed and I intend to check up on his other works at a later stage. What makes Bombay London New York (not a title I particularly liked but with a georgeous cornflower blue cover - the one I have) unique is that it is a book about books, so plenty of references get thrown in with some literary criticism to chew over as well, making this quite a bibliophile's delight. A small part of the pleasure was to see the author referencing many of the books I'd read but it also helped in identifying several authors and works I was not familiar with. So by the end of it, I made a mental note of at least half a douzen books that I might want to take up.So is it a book only for literary buffs? Not really. Sure, the author - both by virtue of being a professor of English literature abroad and a well-known writer- is deeply passionate about books and even sees a lot of the world through that prism. The influence of books is especially felt when he describes his struggle to become a writer. In places where he talks about family and friends, the book takes on the form of a memoir and for me these are easily the most engaging parts. Whether it is his "shame" in growing up in Patna or his desire to experience a life abroad seeing the plush postcards that his Aunt sends him from US, or his struggle to write, there's a rare power in the writing that is as candid as it is touching. This is a stage in his life when V S Naipaul and his books like A House For Mr Biswas and Finding The Centre have a deep influence on the author The former one is about a man's struggle to become a writer and his helpnessness while the second one is about moving to London after living in a village. Both offer great inspiration to the author and prove to be catalysts in his decision of going abroad. Even though the autobiographical elements are the most interesting parts of the book, Amitava Kumar's real purpose through his work here is to touch upon several significant larger socio-political issues in his physical scape. And where ever possible, the author tries to bring in a literary perspective either to give voice to a particular issue or to assess it from a critical stand point. For example, the book starts on a rather heavy-duty note with the author taking a strong stand against the nuclear bomb testing under the Vajpayee government. He refers to Arundathi Roy's criticism of it in her essay, 'The End of Imagination' and how her writings had a definite impact, paving the way for activism through writing. It's obvious that Amitava Kumar believes in the greater power of writing, as his admiration for playwright Safdar Hashmi and his didacticism suggests. This is also one of the reasons that makes this book quite ambitious in scope. The other central aspect that the author focuses on is the immigrant life. Since the author is himself living this life, he offers a perspective on both the personal and political side of things. He speaks about the Indian diaspora attempting to preserve an 'idea' of an India that no longer exists. "At least among first generation immigrants, India remains the space of wholesome purity." Citing films like Taal and Pardes, he says, "The grand portrayal of NRI nostalgia is emplematizes by the presentation of a single imagine: the desirable Indian woman as an icon of docility and traditional charm, one manufactured on celluloid as an updated image of the mythical Sita" And this preservation of "nostalgia", the author believes, is expressed by the diaspora through their support to the Right Wing parties. BJP gets its greatest support from this segment, he notes. "I am disturbed that the 'soft' emotion of nostalgia in the diaspora is turned into the 'hard' emotion of fundamentalism" Some of these discussions are extremely insightful, even if I felt that the first 50 pages of the book are very essayist in nature. The literary references find the deepest resonance when he talks about his own journey and experiences. There are various literary figures he discusses and how they impacted and shaped his personality. One of them is Hanif Kureishi, whose candid and liberal ideas on love and sex affected the author who himself was trying to make a connection with women. Kureishi's book, Intimacy - about an extra marital affact - made quite an impression on him. Amitava Kumar doesn't use the opportunity to criticise any of his colleague's works but he does show his irritation with Salman Rushdie's use of stereotypes when he describes small town India or its characters. The chapter essentially is about how it would be a mistake to see the small towns as a sleepy provincial place - again as part of one's nostalgia and 'idea' of a village. These places are rapidly changing, he observes, becoming more aggressive than ever and changing the equation of politics. The other literary observation that caught my eye was when the author asks Hanif Kureishi to compare himself with V S Naipaul and the former says that he likes women and sex, an aspect that is always missing from Naipaul's writings. "Naipaul can't write about marriage," is his crisp reply. As I said, the book's finest moments come when the author describes his own journey and the intimate moments he shares with a few people. He isn't scared to bare his feelings, even those that could seem embarrassing. Also, he's not judgmentmental or too harsh on anyone. Not even in his wry description of Laloo Prasad Yadav, whom he visits in Patna. This could be because most of the times the author is in an insecure state, fighting his own demons. The Epilogue is curiously the high point in the book, where the author narrates his friendship with a couple in US, giving a glimpse into the immigrant life and the inability by most to disconnect from their past. This is also true about his uncle and aunt, a very poignant episode. Amitava Kumar's book is undoubtedly rich with references and insights. Also, there's a great fluency to his writing that allows him some success even with a theme that is difficult to pull off. Of course, not everything about the book is perfect. As I mentioned the first 50 pages are almost devoid of any literary connection, so it's difficult to ascertain what direction the book is taking. Amitava Kumar flits from topic to topic - some even unrelated ones ---so it becomes frustrating to find the connection each time. But the rest of the books flows well, with some particular episodes really standing out. My admiration for Amitava Kumar is mostly for his writing, which I really think has a lot of flair and finesse. -Sandhya Iyer
"'If I were to write a novel in Marathi, I would not be called an Indian writer in Marathi, but simply a Marathi novelist, the epithet Marathi referring only to the language...' Is there any reason why, when it comes to any fiction in English, there should be an obsession with the issue of its Indianness?" p. 24"'In the lane behind my house, every night I walk past road gangs of emaciated laborers digging a trench to lay fiber-optic cables to speed up our digital revolution. In the bitter winter cold, they work by the light of a few candles.'" p. 51
Books with the themes of migration and post-colonial experiences always interest me. So did this one - more so when the author's roots seem to be shared by my family, in terms of the state of origin. And I loved the way Amitava Kumar uses prominent books by Indian writers as motifs to demonstrate the changes felt by immigrants. The narration in that regard is quite good. Maybe the writing looks a bit unstructured at some places. But that does not take away the experience I would say.
Liked the first part of the book immensely. I think the book loses it's initial objective towards the end.Would like to have my own copy nonetheless (anybody gifting??)