Monday, June 15, 2009

"Haunting Bombay"

Shilpa Agarwal was born in Bombay and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Duke University and UCLA and has taught at both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. As an unpublished novel, Haunting Bombay won the 2003 First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Haunting Bombay, her first novel, and reported the following:
Haunting Bombay is a literary ghost story that tells the tale of three generations of the wealthy Mittal family who have buried a tragic history and the ghosts of the past who rise up to haunt them. Set in 1960’s India, the story centers around young Pinky Mittal, a girl raised by her grandmother, an extended family, and a coterie of servants in an old colonial bungalow. One night, Pinky accidentally unleashes the ghost of a child who had drowned there years earlier. As the monsoons erupt over Bombay, the ghost plunges the bungalow into chaos and Pinky must find the courage to uncover the drowning's shocking truth.

Page 69 marks the start of a new chapter titled “Devilry” in which Pinky goes for a car ride with her cousins and encounter a group of hermaphrodites, a shadowy population in Indian society. The other character on this page is the driver Gulu, who is preparing the car for their excursion in accordance with his own superstitious beliefs.

Gulu began to pull the Ambassador out of the driveway after flicking water to freshen up a string of jasmine flowers he had placed around a miniature statue of Lord Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, upon the front dashboard. He obtained these flowers from a vendor who passed by the gate at the crack of dawn, purchasing jasmine strings for the housemaids too and leaving them on the front verandah where later Parvati and Kuntal would leave a few coins in payment. He used to buy a solitary marigold blossom each day too. But that was long ago.

The marigold blossoms were daily gifts given by Gulu to the woman he secretly loved, the servant girl who cared for the dead child and who was blamed for the drowning and subsequently banished from the bungalow. Gulu had an opportunity to clear her name but never did, and this failure has haunted him ever since.

Page 69 does not necessarily reflect the suspenseful pacing of the novel, which unfurls from the luxurious heights of the bungalow in Malabar Hill to the labyrinthine depths of the city’s underworld in a mere thirteen days. But it evokes the story’s mystical tone and the intertwined themes of power and powerlessness, love and betrayal. And the chapter that begins on this page gives us a vital clue to the mystery of what happened on that tragic drowning day.
Watch the Haunting Bombay trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Shilpa Agarwal's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue