Book club : Riding the samoosa express



I was once talking to a friend about arranged marriages when my boss walked by and stopped to listen to what he found to be an interesting exchange.  It’s weird how people from different cultures have such different ideas about marriage.  The bossman could not tangibly conceive of the concept of an arranged marriage, but according to Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, famed author of Eat, Pray,Love – but the book I am referring to this time is called Committed) the concept of love and romantic love is a western invention and is a fairly recent invention at that.

In many cultures marriage is still used to structure society and family – it is a practical tool used less to join two people together, than to serve a purpose in properly structuring the community.  One tribe of women in South East Asia did not understand Elizabeth’s conception of romantic love – when asked questions along the lines of whether her husband was “the one”, that special somebody, the elder lady of the tribe merely laughed, uncomprehendingly.  She knows that he is a good man – but more than that, she would not divulge.  The idea that the whole community is affected by a marriage also means that the community tries their best to intervene when things are going badly in the marriage – they have a vested interest in the structure remaining stable.  Unlike Western society, where dirty laundry is meant to be kept indoors…

I just read the book Riding the Samoosa Express (finally done) and I must say that some parts are amazing and some parts really made me cringe.

My favourite line so far is “as I grow older, age chases me like an old woman with a champal” in the essay titled Only Oomi.  The story My journey into spiritual awakening is also thought-provoking and well written.

But as I said, there were some awkward moments.  For example, the essay titled The Creation of Complex Me seems like an attempt to justify a lifestyle that the author is not completely comfortable with – it is defensive and condescending. Some parts seem to be just plain denial (and trying to deal with personal issues). I must admit that I am a snob and I know it – but at least I know it…The author creates an impression of herself as a cool outsider, with a pop culture reference thrown in here and there, but denigrates the culture and society, in favour of the Western culture that glitters so enticingly.  It seems like this story was written by an angry teenager, but who knows. Her point of view is something I may have identified with a few years ago, but after my second trip to India I have realised the awesomeness of the Indian culture and the young Indians around the world – granted, we do not have a perfect system, but it is not all bad. There are values and traditions that are good, and some that are bad. But if you don’t fit in, you need not look down on the rest of us mere mortals.  I must compliment the author though – it’s been a while since I reacted so strongly to a story, so I commend her for that.

My rant over, the book is actually really interesting and fun to read – most of the stories share the viewpoint that it is quite difficult for an educated Indian woman to find a husband, and this leads to the subtext that there is something wrong with Indian men for not wanting educated women…The book is a collection of essays from Muslim women in South Africa, all sharing their life experiences, mostly related to finding a spouse. It is divided into 3 parts, The road towards marriage, then Identity and finally Marriage and beyond (I would have thought that identity should come before the road towards marriage, but that’s just me – shouldn’t you first find yourself before finding someone else?)

At least there were some stories that did not follow the usual path of unconventional Indian girl meets prince charming (educated Indian guy who will accept her for who she is, brain and all).

I like the story of Zayboon Motala (Against all odds), a vignette of a life interestingly lived.  But there were many other cool stories too. Run, Samoosa, Run was really funny and I read it aloud to the Husband for some shared laughs.  I identified with Only Oomi and Reflections, although my life does not match those of the authors – their voices were authentic.  Education and Izzat was one of the stories that made me cringe, but hey, maybe I am getting more conservative in my old age.

The stories towards the end got better and better and there was more depth (and even some tears) – for some reason the authors towards the end of the book seem much more mature than the beginning – it’s like the book itself develops from angry teenager into mature woman.  Not a suitable career for a Muslim girl, and My journey into spiritual awakening, and From the depths of my soul were good reads.  I did not get the point of Out of the fish tank…and into the pond – there was a ton of description but no depth, resolution or analysis of all of the events described – quite unsatisfying.

The book could do with better editing, but maybe I’m expecting too much with regard to consistency and style from a book containing a collection of essays from different authors.  It’s probably a quirk of my own to always want the semi-colon to be in the right place (not that I know too much about grammar formally, and you all know that this blog is not edited with a fine-toothed comb – but I expect more from a real life paper book).  I really wished for more in the beginning of this book.  Even so, the book as a whole is interesting.  There will most likely be at least one or two stories to charm each reader (and one or two to irk each reader too, maybe).

The commentary on society was thought-provoking.  It leads me to believe that we all view society differently – if there are different pressures that society puts on different people, we may just be reflecting or projecting our own individual insecurities onto what we think society wants from us – when in fact, there is no global view.  We worry far too much about what other people think of us when the reality is that they probably don’t have time to think about us at all (or don’t care) because everyone has their own issues.

It seems that we all create our own realities and moralities and we judge people and actions and the world against our own standards.  If it is all about individual standards, we cannot possibly live up to all the different views of every person – everyone has a different view of what is right.  A few weeks ago, after lunch, the ladies were discussing some or other religious view at Rania’s house, and there were as many views as there were ladies.  Just goes to show: you may like chicken samoosas, but I like cheese.


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