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Of Exile, Of Passion, or O-Pho?

Simi Malhotra

By Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla
HarperCollins India, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 406, 350.00


Not having read Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla’s first novel Ode to Lata, I approached his second one, The Exiles, with some trepidation. Let me at the outset, quite candidly, place my own prejudices on record: I have, of late, turned a bit wary, if not weary, of reading endless stories of listless exile, especially that of the Indian diaspora. However, to give Dhalla full credit, he is not your usual run of the mill diasporic writer writing just another story of exile. In fact, his story is refreshingly different, so much so that the title The Exiles seems somewhat metaphorical of its central plot of marital ennui, adultery, murder, suicide. Dhalla’s novel, set across LA, Kenya and Mumbai, carefully, if not craftily, tells us a passionate story of love that consumes all those involved in the saga. The LA based banker Rahul Kapoor, married for long years to Pooja Bhatt with a grown up son Ajay, somewhere during the course of the novel strays and falls in love with a man, Atif. Just to clear the air, the ‘refreshingly different’ bit of this telling, that I referred to above, is not in Rahul’s falling in love with a man though. In fact, rather than sensationalizing it or harping on this ‘unusualness’ of his plot, Dhalla needs to be credited for telling the story of the passionate love between Rahul and Atif with an ease and finesse one rarely comes across. Therefore, at times when Dhalla goes into the polemics of explaining homosexuality by taking recourse to testimonial knowledge, quoting texts from various religious traditions with gay abandon, it seems a bit of a drag, no pun intended. However, it is a minor point that can be overlooked, because mostly Dhalla quite carefully avoids taking recourse to trappings of gender and religion while exploring the relationship between Rahul and Atif, which is quite assuring.   Rahul, bored with his banking job, has an equally jaded married life. No amount of fervent praying or sumptuous cooking by his "...The Exiles is a poignant love story told with a sensitivity and craftiness that is praiseworthy." wife Pooja, who runs an otherwise successful catering business in LA, is able to save the day for them. A fact that Pooja too, in her disquiet, realizes. Her understated desperation usually finds outlet, expectedly, in her praying or her cooking, or at times when she pours ...

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