Mission Mumbai: 08/18/16
I really don't know how to react to Mission Mumbai by Mahtab Narsimhan. The subtitle is a "novel of sacred cows, snakes, and stolen toilets." All those mentioned things are part of the plot along with a fire, monsoonal flooding, and a terrible train ride.
The basic plot is that the son of a wealthy New York family is visiting Mumbai with his best friend, a boy they've been hosting so that he can go to school in the United States. On the surface level, these are two upper class families but the amount of money each has is a difference as big as the Grand Canyon. The Lal's are struggling with the continued expense of New York and are thinking of keeping their son, Rohit home.
The point of the trip after all is said and done, is a wedding. The rest of the stuff in the book is there to show how different India is from the United States and more specifically, how different Mumbai is from New York City. New York covers 304.5 square miles and Mumbai 232.8 square miles. Mumbai is roughly two and a half times more populated than New York (21 million vs. 9 million). Or roughly a population density of 30,000 per square mile vs 90,000 per square mile.
Mind you, both families are upper class so neither one would be living in the most densely populated areas. But the point is, Mumbai is smaller and more crowded. Expanded outward, India (as mentioned in the novel) has more than one billion people (as compared to 316.5 million in the United States). India has nearly four times the population in a country that's only a third of the size.
I'm putting these numbers here first as perspective because a big part of the book beyond the wedding preparation is Dylan Moore's non-stop faux pass. Dylan is a stereotypical wealthy American white dude. Despite being "best friends" with Rohit for years, and despite learning a few words of Hindu, he is self absorbed, completely clueless, and perpetually rude. He's also spoiled rotten as evidenced by the high end camera he has with him and the Rolex watch he later throws at an elderly man. What kid owns a Rolex watch? They don't even make children's watches.
Rohit, meanwhile, seems to take infinite delight in setting up Dylan for failure. The book is strung together scenes of Dylan getting a bad idea, Rohit rolling his eyes, Dylan getting in trouble, and Rohit laughing at him. How is this a friendship? While I'm not a huge fan of backstory, there's not enough here for me to understand how they came to like each other, let alone how they even came to know each other.
I'm not expecting a completely happy romp through India. That wouldn't be realistic either. Travel is exhausting. Travel is eye opening (unless you're on a carefully controlled package tour). Travel is embarrassing. Travel is messy. Travel can be dangerous.
A more upbeat look at traveling to India is Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins.