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I Can Cautiously Add Nidhi Thakur to the List of Illustrious Who’s Who of Indian American Literature

I Can Cautiously Add Nidhi Thakur to the List of Illustrious Who’s Who of Indian American Literature

  • The way she fleshes out the plots and characters in her latest book, “When She Married Dr. Patekar and Other Stories,” is often poetical and lyrical.

The genre of Indian Americans writing stories about their lives in countries they have made their home is not new — Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie — the list is long and illustrious. To this August list, I will cautiously venture to add the name of Nidhi Thakur, who debuts with her collection of short stories titled “When She Married Dr. Patekar and Other Stories.” Her writing style is brilliant with the expressions painting pictures, allegorical references, and descriptions with three adjectives used, often poetical and lyrical.

Right off the bat, one can sense that the stories Thakur writes come from her life and her experiences, both the land she was born in (India) and the one she calls her home now (USA). There is the fuzzy warmth of the place she calls home today and a wistful longing for the home she left behind when she moved to a foreign land. Whether it is Mehak (in “When She Married Dr. Patekar”), Ragini (in “The Packing”) or Deepa (in “Curry and Kosher”), there is a bit of the author in every story. This is what gives authenticity to each character and makes each story arc genuine. Even where the protagonist is not a woman (“The Doorman,” “Being Krishna”) or is a woman from another country (“A House for My Memories”), the personal touch, and hence the genuine characterization, is evident. Thakur does an excellent job of building each character (and not just the main ones) in her story and turning them into flesh and blood people — people we have met in our lives and who we can identify with.

The story that the book is named after is of course “When She Married Dr. Patekar” — the story of Mehak, a fairly successful film star from India who one day wakes up and decides to leave a life of glamour and is chased by the paparazzi, gets married to an Indian origin doctor in the U.S. and moves to her new home. What follows is endless wistful days each like the other, until Mehak finds another purpose, a challenge that consumes her till she succeeds. Life is all about making meaning and Mehak finds another passion to do this. People familiar with Bollywood will find similarities with an actual film star who, at the peak of her career, did what the fictitious Mehak does, but after the first few paras, the story takes a different arc.

Thakur cleverly brings in an unrelated, in the passing mention of characters from one story in another in an almost blink-it-and-you-will-miss-it manner.

While all 11 stories keep you hooked and invested in the characters, my favorites are ‘Family Business,’ ‘Old and Wise’ and ‘Those Wars.’ This is mainly due to the multiple hues the characters have in these stories. ‘Family Business’ has a darkness the other stories do not prepare you for. ‘Old and Wise’ has an unexpected twist that makes you grudgingly admire Rekha. ‘Those Wars’ speaks to the trauma of generations that we inherit and which we continue to experience even if it is in opposite parts of the globe in totally different time frames. This one especially tugged at my heart — the youthful innocence of love, extreme fear in a foreign land, the desire to be accepted as part of a new land, and yet be painfully aware of being an outsider, however hard you may try to fit in. Generational trauma is being studied by psychologists and there is research on how stories repeat across lifetimes — this story is a gem highlighting this.

As is the case with any work, this too will have its criticism. Thakur’s characters are sometimes uni-dimensional — there is only goodness in them and no shades of grey. The women especially, seem devoid of ambition and settled into blissful matrimony. Those who have careers are the ones where the marriage has failed. Some characters seem to have left the story unfinished — I really would have liked to see Sarla (in ‘Family Business’) face her childhood trauma and take steps to resolve it, maybe even take revenge. Similarly, ‘Bobby Girl’ needs some further exploration and unpacking of the character of Shanta. Some stories left me with questions — does Ragini (in the ‘Unpacking’) find her new life satisfying? Do Shanu and Ajit in Firefly continue to brush their issues under the carpet to keep peace or do they face the challenge and work on their relationship? Does the ‘Colonel in A House for My Memories’ say to Henrietta what he really wants to say? I guess I will never know. However, the fact that I am so invested in these characters is surely a sweet victory for Thakur.

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Thakur cleverly brings in an unrelated, in the passing mention of characters from one story in another in an almost blink-it-and-you-will-miss-it manner. Does this mean that there is more where this came from and that she has a mega story in her head that she is putting words to? One where the lives of these characters across stories get intertwined and some of my questions get answered, only to give rise to more? Maybe it can then be made into a full-length movie, a Hindi and English crossover, with a large part showing different lives and storylines in India and the U.S. and a beautiful, intertwined trajectory in the end. It is a delicious possibility, one that I will root for and hold my breath for!

“When She Married Dr. Patekar and Other Stories” is available globally on Amazon. It is also a part of the catalog for the BCCLS library system in N.J.

J. Padmaja is a Bengaluru-based voracious book reader and an avid reviewer. She enjoys reading genres across crime, mystery, historical, and thrillers. She believes in the axiom “Literature is the mirror to society” and reads stories to understand people and their lives from various countries, situations, and periods. In her spare time, she also has a successful, full-time corporate career. You can find reviews and views on books and reading on her Instagram handle @kaafi_kuch_kafka and on her dedicated book review blog

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