Book of the week: What Is Remembered by Suketu Mehta
The author's new novella speaks to the immigrant experience
CliffsNotes: An Indian man lands at JFK and by the time he’s cleared customs, he’s forgotten his mother’s name. As his years in the new country go by, more information about his provenance – who is his family? What happened to them? Are they dead or alive? – slides off him, mostly unnoticed. Until the information becomes vital to his staying and flourishing in the US. He goes back to the airport to try and locate his mother’s name, eventually falling down a not-quite-real rabbit hole of memory and desire.
This novella-length work by Suketu Mehta comes 12 years after he penned the seminal Bombay book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (2004). Its yearnsome sentimentalism and liberal use of NRI fiction tropes are a departure from his brisk, tough-loving style of non-fiction.
Get a taste: Mahesh was eating chiki, the memory cake. Each bite had in it a nut – peanut, cashew, pistachio, almond – that contained an individual scene. The peanut is base, low, and tells of the time Mahesh shat his pants in the fourth standard. He was sitting in the classroom, with his reek slowly climbing up all around him.
After a while the neighbours began to notice and giggle. Miss Rimzim sniffed the air: ‘Who is having stomach problem?’ Mahesh, terrified, rooted to his seat, cemented to it by shit. ‘Who is smelling up the whole place?’ she boomed louder.
Mahesh, cowering, shutting his eyes. ‘Everyone get out of the classroom one by one,’ Miss Rimzim commanded and observed the bottom of each student’s white shorts as they went by her and out the door. Mahesh, sitting one bench before the last, watching Nikhil Vaniya smirk knowingly towards him and march off confidently in his speckless white shorts, slowing his step as he passed the inspection of Miss Rimzim, looking behind him as Mahesh sat in his seat, eyes still closed.
‘Mahesh Desai! Get up!’
‘Mahesh Desai! Getup!’
Author 101: New York-based Suketu Mehta is an award-winning journalist and author. His last work of narrative non-fiction Maximum City won the Kiriyama Prize and was shortlisted for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Mehta’s writing has been published in the world’s leading publications including TIME, The New York Times, Newsweek and National Geographic. He is a professor of journalism at NYU and has written screenplays for Mission Kashmir and New York, I Love You.
What is Remembered is exclusively available on the Juggernaut app.