Monday, June 15, 2015

Dangerlok by Eunice de Souza

Eunice de Souza
2001, I read 2008
125 pages, satire, comedy
Found: secondhand at the Kolkata Book Fair 2015

This novella features the reflections of Rina Ferreira, a middle-aged denizen of Bombay (Mumbai) whose sardonic humor allows her to make the most of her relatively lonely life. A lecturer in English literature, Rina is single, compassionate, and devoted to her two parrots - even when they make a mess of her small flat. Or convince people that Rina is crazy by sitting on her head when she answers the door.

Rina has two primary outlets for her humorous reflections on life in Bombay: David, an old lover living abroad, to whom she writes frequent letters; and her household help, or bai, who enjoys gossiping about the city's "dangerlok" with her employer over cigarettes and cups of "jungly tea" (recipe: throw water, tea leaves, and milk into pot, boil, add sugar to taste). The result is a complex portrait of the amusing situations that arise in a major metropolitan city, through the observations of one middle-aged college professor.

When I first started reading this book, I was put off by the tone, which struck me as very similar to the narrator of The Giraffe's Neck (an IFFP book that I really disliked). But unlike in The Giraffe's Neck, in which the main character is a really a despicable person who judges people according to her interpretation of social Darwinism, Rina is the sort of person I would like to meet - someone who notices the amusing misspellings on the signs, or sees how the bus driver reacts to driverless rickshaws clogging the street in front of him. Rina actually notices things, and the things that she notices are important parts of the everyday life of the people around her. The term "dangerlok," instead of referring to people who are actually dangerous, refers to people who are annoying or are busybodies, traits that are extremely common in Rina's urban world.

Rina is a Goan Catholic, but she was born in Poona (Pune) and decorates her house with images of Hindu deities. Although as a middle aged woman, society says that she should be married, Rina is single and lives alone. She speaks her mind at conferences or academic discussions without hesitation, even if what she just wants to be the devil's advocate. (Example: during a meeting she responds to a proposal to make Postcolonialism a required course, Rina "said that hardly anyone seemed to be reading any more, just using texts to ride a hobby horse." Har har.) Based on her name and appearance, some people can't believe that she is an Indian citizen; she just shrugs and goes home to tell the stories to her bai. She purposefully subverts the categories that people want to place her in. Rina really just wants to have the freedom to be herself, which she does by not paying attention to others' opinions.

I very much enjoyed the letters to David which were interspersed with the rest of the text. Hearing only one side of the conversation gives the reader an insight into Rina's thoughts and feelings toward (possibly?) her former student and lover. The other sections, which are written in 3rd person without quotation marks to indicate who is speaking, sometimes become confusing. After you get used to the style, it really suits the story's sarcasm.

Dangerlok is a very short book; it only took me about 1.5 hours to read. It's a clever, funny novella about life in the big city, in modern India, and as someone who doesn't fit into anyone's preconceptions - and doesn't want to. I want to be like Rina when I grow up.

Dangerlok is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon IN, and flipkart. 

Further Reading: 

Read articles from Eunice de Souza's column in the Mumbai Mirror

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  1. Hi! Interesting review. Strangely, this is the first time I came across this book. With such a crisp review, it only makes me read the book.

  2. Hi! Interesting review. Strangely, this is the first time I came across this book. With such a crisp review, it only makes me read the book.

    1. Thanks for reading! It really is a great novella.