There is a reason why I pick books after much consideration. It has got nothing to do with my overzealous life. It’s because I fear that I will die before reading the best literature on the face of the Earth. So, just like my friends, I pick my books very carefully.
Anyway, I picked Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale because a. it was Longlisted for the JCB prize for Literature 2019, and b. After stalking the author on Instagram, I got to know that she is a Product manager working in AI for public health.
Remember that feeling when you feel jealous of a friend for accomplishing something that you always wanted to do? I had the same feeling, except that Amrita is not my friend. But I was surprised (and ashamed) because now there was a person who had actually done it- wrote a book while staying in a hardcore technical profession. And here I was blaming by 9-to-5 seemingly satisfying job for ruining my “writing plans of a book.” The excuses we make, dammit!
I had already started admiring her secretly and I went straight for her book looking forward to finding some secret sauce to begin my writing career.
I would admit here, I didn’t find the first few pages too alluring. Looking back, I think I know what it was. I was too critical. I thought it was too simple. A girl. A boy. They lived in the same building. They knew each other since the beginning of time (read: childhood). They are separated when one of them moves out to study but are reunited as adults when Kartik comes back to the city for a fancy job that pays him well. Since childhood, their mothers were best friends who cooked together and gossiped. Who could have stopped them from falling in love?
No one. Even their parents didn’t protest against what-they-thought-was their “love” and proposed their children to get married to each other.
Too simple, too simple, my mind kept telling me.
Why can’t you just let the book be? What do you want? A psycho-love-thriller?, my counter-self reproached me.
And then I found what I’ve been looking for.
It was there all along, but I had somehow failed to notice it. I had not paid attention to the character sketch of Mumbai that Amrita had painted–the land of Gateway of India, the city of the Taj Mahal Palace and Bollywood stars, the place where people came to live their dreams, the land where the sea embraced and shaped so many lives.
I have never lived in Mumbai. I have just been there twice. Yes! Just two times. But that’s no reason for anyone to stop loving the dream city.
There is an uncanny love that I have for Mumbai. It’s a lot different from what I have for Delhi, my home city.
Mumbai, for me, is a person with a charming personality. Well-dressed and attractive enough to make any person fall in love with her. But even with such good looks, the city has a heart of gold and she never admonishes anyone. Sit by her side in the evening and you’ll see the best sunsets in the world. Cry on her shores and she’ll wash away your tears. Laugh and she’ll laugh with you for days with incessant rains. Dream with her and she’ll show you how to chase them till they become a reality.
But try and hurt her with your religious propaganda, and she’ll hit you harder in the face. She won’t back down. Because she has built this city on dreams, not on hatred. She has built this city with love and she won’t let you shatter everything in one blow.
But then I saw the other side of the city in Milk teeth- crumbling, shattering under the weight of development, falling apart in the post-babri religious hatred. But still standing tall amidst all the chaos.
Through the characters that Amrita weaved, I looked at Mumbai through an altogether different lens–how a city loves and is loved by its residents, what makes a city stand out for its inhabitants, what makes them fear and leave the place they always called home.
Other than Mumbai, the two other things that I really liked in the book are the secret lives that both Ira and Kartik lived. That gave the book the kick it needed. After listening to Ira’s side of the story, I was turning the pages in anticipation to what Kartik had to say.
Overall, the book had me hooked till the end and I wouldn’t have settled for a better ending than the current one. So, pick this book if you love falling in love with new cities, new authors and new books. Because hey! It’s her debut.