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Author: Bhargavi C. Mandava
Publisher:Seal Press ,2005
Price:$22.95
Pages:286
Reviewer:Jyotsna Sanzgiri
WHERE THE OCEANS MEET is the first novel that author Bhargavi Mandava, an Indian American writer living in Los Angeles, offers us. Her vivid characterizations of men and women, whether in India or the U.S., capture our attention because they are carefully contextualized, and the author allows us to dwell on the interplay of race and class and gender without stridently forcing us to categorize these men and women as good or evil, but rather as people who respond forcefully to their difficult circumstances.

To shed light on the complexity of class difference in India, Bhargavi Mandava brings us into intimate contact with a forty-six year old woman, Mrs. Vidya Chitra, being bathed by her servant Munjee. In a section entitled The Bath, our senses are awakend as Munjee rubs oil into Mrs. Chitra’s tired bones. The aromatic massage therapy consists of:... scented khus-khus, turmeric root and chickpea flour.... (p.44) that the servant makes into a paste and rubs into Mrs. Chitra’s back. Mistress and servant enter a sensual ritual.... Munjee stepped in front of her (Mrs. Chitra), writes our author, began spreading the cool yellow salve on her neck, breasts and stomach. The steam was thick now, and all she could see were betel-nut colored hands reaching for her. (p.45).

While Mrs. Chitra allows herself to be vulnerable and relax into an intimacy with her servant that she no longer has with her husband, the scene is rudely interrupted by her husband’s abrupt arrival. She immediately shakes Munjee off her like crumbs from her lap, and shouts at her go to and tend to her master immediately. Munjee scurries off, and both women are instantly separated by the intervening male presence.

The theme of unrequited love, of human passion ending in tragedy, violence, suicidal rage, weaves through many chapters of the novel, such as The Lorry Driver, The Tailor, Giving Birth. The entire novel brings us face to face with the complexity our characters face, and through Bhargavi Mandava’s skilfull prose, we are able to understand their innermost feelings as human beings, pundits and beggars alike.

Dr. Sita Murali, for instance, leaves a flourishing medical practice in South India and eventually becomes a staff psychiatrist in a US hospital. She tries to understand her life in the US, and yet maintain her dignity. She stopped wearing saris and started squeezing into itchy polyester pantsuits because that was all they could afford...(p.225).

She realizes with some bitterness that no one warned her about sexism in the US, how depression would eventually kill her husband, how her daughter would eventually be hospitalized after a mental breakdown. And yet, Dr. Murali. like all the men and women we come across, learn to persist, to remember the beauty of their native land to overcome hard times, to read Scriptures in times of desperate need. The men and women come alive for us as they face their moral dilemmas with all the courage they can muster.

Bhargavi Mandava’s fiction and poetry have previously appeared in literary publications such as The Bloomsbury Review, Buffalo Spree, Rockford Review. She is a writer with a promising future, and no doubt we will have the pleasure of reading more of her future work.

Jyotsna Sanzgiri serves as the Dean of the Organizational Psychology Program at the California School of Professional Psychology

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