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Literary Review

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FICTION

Dreams and visa applications

SOFIA GHORI SALEEM

Yet another book portrays today's modern Indian women as hesitantly liberated.


Rear Entrance; David Barun Kumar Thomas, Hachette, Rs. 250.


Rear Entrance by David Barun Kumar Thomas, notwithstanding the novel's name, is not a book about gay behaviour. This is a story about Seetha, who is both an IT professional and an amateur philosopher and writer, who abruptly cuts short her work assignment and decides to return to her homeland after facing rejection overseas.

This book is set in Brussels and discusses the lives and circumstances of four Indians looking to obtain a tourist visa to the UK. The timeline of the book is about a day and a half spanning the interview for the visas and obtaining it the next day. Much happens in the span of one day.

At the Visa Office, Seetha meets Amit, Harish and Ratnesh. All three are from very different Indian backgrounds and personalities. The author cleverly portrays Ratnesh to be a seedy, uncouth, unpleasant scoundrel and a hardened opportunist. Amit on the other hand, is well to do and well connected with Indian diplomats and people of influence. However, he too turns out to be disappointingly shallow and calculating. After interviewing at the visa office, Seetha lunches with the two men she meets only that morning and later gets invited by Amit to a diplomat's dinner. Seetha is stood up at the end of the evening, as Amit forgets her presence and leaves the party with someone else.

Good in parts

Parts of the book are extremely well written and a good read. The life sketches of the main characters of the book of the four Indians are very well done. Occasional observations of passersby, such as the Indian couple who Seetha guesses to be a retired bank officer and his wife with a successful son in IBM North Carolina, or the loud American couple who Seetha speculates are previously both divorced, are a touch judgmental. It's one thing to weave in the history of a tourist's background as part of the story, but to guess at their circumstances and stereotype people from different nations comes through as a bit insular and parochial.

This is yet another book that portrays today's modern Indian women as hesitantly liberated. There is a tendency to dabble in the swirl of western lifestyle until incident catalyses their return with the swiftness of a boomerang. Seetha's problem seems to be her loneliness in a lifestyle she is only getting accustomed to, and a lack of kindred spirits to help her along in the process. The women in the diplomat party are clearly people not in her league. The IT scene tends to produce a plethora of fine, sensitive, educated people who travel in groups and are willing to create a ready ecosystem in which a fresh contractor from India can survive. Not so for Seetha.

Improbable situations

The book intermittently goes into a diatribe on the underpinning philosophy of polytheism and details about the subtleties of Brahmins vs Dalits. Today's modern woman does not consider intellectual outpourings to be a hallmark of her liberation. On the contrary, in the course of normal conversation, this sounds tacky and even downright preachy. Seetha gets repeatedly called upon to expound on her understanding of the Upanishads. Even the visa officer is willing to lend a ready ear, which sounds altogether implausible. Visa officers — for all their unfathomable and unpredictable ways — will, to a man, be trained to discourage any conversation other than the visa situation on hand.

The three visa applicants all use deceptive methods to conform to the rules of eligibility for a UK visa. However, the last nail in the coffin for Seetha, is when, she faces rejection and humiliation at the visa office.

In conclusion, if the rear entrance was the easiest way to find a path to the U.K., Seetha does not find that back door. Maybe that explains the title.

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