kumar amongst the harolds

Discussion in 'The ChitChat Lounge' started by jamhead, Jun 6, 2005.

  1. jamhead

    jamhead Unknown Legend

    Readers should not be put off by an opening that might seem to

    promise an epistolary novel, an italicized letter by the protagonist,

    Gopal Kumar to "Beloved Younger Brother" that uses an overabundance of

    process verbs to imitate the intonation, I believe, of Indian English: "I

    am arriving safely in America and finding good apartment near

    University." Anurag Mathur's detail, even in Gopal's embarrassingly

    stereotypical voice, is hilarious: Gopal drinks so much Coke on the plane that the

    cabin attendants cannot control their laughter. ("We have our own," he

    explains later, to his cousin, Sunil, in New York, "But Coke is Coke.")

    At Immigration the greeting, "How's it going?" inspires Gopal to

    expound for ten minutes upon the problems and hopes of the family

    business in Jajau town; to the official's comment, "totally, totally nuts,"

    Gopal reveals his fondness for cashews, which he filled himself with

    also on the plane, "because I am not knowing what is food and what is meat."

    A customs official tells Gopal "Watch your ass," inspiring Gopal to marvel on

    American intelligence that can know about the family's purchase of a donkey two

    days before Gopal left for the United States.

    After three pages of letter the novel continues in third person,

    varying Gopal's predominant perspective with that of the Americans,

    hyphenated or hybrid, that he meets. Before he reaches his

    destination for a year of chemical engineering, Eversville, in an

    unidentified state, Gopal must survive a clock radio he can't turn off,

    McDonald's, and Times Square on an overnight visit with his cousin, Sunil.

    The offer by "a very good looking, black man, dressed in a breathtakingly

    beautiful gray overcoat" of "some real live pussy" begins the theme of the

    book, Gopal's quest, initiated without his slightest understanding, to get

    laid before he returns to India. "No thank you, sir," Gopal declines.

    "I'm vegetarian." And when he returns to his cousin unscathed (and

    unlaid), he says, "I met friendly man selling cats."

    Mathur treats us to Sunil's perspective on "this hopeless,

    gangling, earnest young man so far from home and his natural surroundings."

    Inspired by Gopal's convoluted account of their family relationship, Sunil thinks

    about cultures' tendency to develop synonyms "to distinguish the shadings of any

    element of which there was an abundance in the environment," like the

    Eskimos' "half a dozen names for snow" or Indians' names "for a nearly

    endless number of specific relationships." What has "the largest number of

    synonyms in America," he wonders. Gopal points out yet another billboard

    painted with naked people. "***, thought Sunil with sudden inspiration.

    The *** act has more names in America than anything else."

    In Eversville Gopal meets his designated host, Randy. ("Why?" Gopal

    asks, at Randy's identification of himself. The next morning when Randy

    returns with "Remember? I'm Randy," Gopal says, "Still?") Aptly named

    Randy Wolff finds his "life meaning and a direction and a goal" with

    Gopal's admission that he has never dated a woman. ("One boy quietly went

    on a date with a girl," he has told Sunil, "but their parents

    made them marry afterwards," so there was no chance of dating in Jajau.)

    That there are still some two hundred pages to go after Randy's stated

    intention might suggest the obstacles Gopal encounters even after Americans'

    obsession with *** has infected him with a lust rivaling even Randy's

    (if that's possible). Meanwhile Gopal experiences football, "which had very

    little to do with the foot and nothing at all to do with a ball," parties, topless

    bars, drive in movies, even love, *** shops, brothels and even a gang bang.

    In a series of incidents Mathur wisely portrays America's racism, which

    separates Gopal from the three white Americans who take him to a restaurant

    ("Is that a table for three, sir," the headwaiter asks Randy.) Gopal nearly loses

    his manhood in a more chilling, equally believable near lynching for his

    "Eye-ranian" appearance and equally erroneous threat to the

    jobs of working class white men. In a touching scene Eversville's football

    star, "black, about six-and-a-half-feet tall and to Gopal appeared to be at

    least as broad," the Peacock drives Gopal past the run-down buildings

    and rusted cars that in the Peacock's words, "ain't as cute as white America, is it?"

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