Unbiased perspective

INEZ BARANAY brings a different order of scholarship to her exploration of the landscape of cultural resilience in her book Neem Dreams. She consigns her protagonists to anchor in India, as the subject is the valuable neem that is nurtured and used by Indians.

Pandora, the Australian eco-scientist looking for the perfect women's project, is on a trip to India. "A small item in an international journal had led her to an article in an Indian magazine, and illumination... and she had booked her ticket and submitted her visa application that day and told lilflesciences magazine that she would accept the commission"(p.3) She meets Andy, an Englishman, and a lawyer, who came to India because he wanted to get off the beaten track, and was in search of a miracle cure for Aids in neem. They meet Jade, an Australian who works in New York, and sells neem care products. She is now in India shopping for neem skin care. The neem project coordinator is Meenakshi who completes the quartet of protagonists.

Baranay explores the attractions and frustrations of the different perspectives her men and women present to each other against the contemporary material of neem, its patenting and marketing, globalisation, victimisation and unfair trade practices. Baranay's pro-Indian voice sees in globalisation and the trans-national capitalism a threat to the very subsistence base of indigenous cultivators. "The laws of patenting hitched on to the marketing slogan, trade not aid". To Pandora it was a political slogan. To her it was important who was trading, who one was doing business with.

The prevailing cultural diaspora is embedded within the Indian context without any sense of grating. If Meenakshi's student life in America was a preoccupation with taboo and the terrible cost of satisfied desire, her involvement with the neem project after her marriage with her cousin, is a redefinition both of love and contemporary normalcy.

Baranay's forte is her penchant for satire. "Pandora's hands fluttered for a moment in front of her chest, revealing her uncertain notion that she was obliged to make a namaste. Being on the other's territory. Being determinedly knowledgeable about cultural sensitivity... But Meenakshi, appeared confident, who wore jeans and `signified they were as natural as the drapes of a sari'. She lived in hybrid space, was familiar with the foreign and empathised with the existentially alien" (p.5).

A creative synthesis of imagery and symbol, simile and metaphor — ideal vehicles for the accommodative range of the stream of consciousness narrative mode, helps to unfold the character, plot and the denouement. "Spanning a wide range of cities, countries, from the vast indifferent, unimpressed New York, Time proceeded at no orderly pace in India, thought Andy, though time did not have a shape you knew. In India time stretched and compressed and turned on itself in spirals and fractals" (p.39).

Moments of experiential details assume a startlingly graphic reality in Baranay's narrative flow. Vivid similes that invite an imaginative response, like "The population swelled and the area became like a man who had become fat forcing himself into a kurta he wore as a slim youth" (p.223) are sprinkled aplenty. The reader is right in the scene of action when Jade encounters beggars as she buys bananas. "You're surrounded by beggars, stop anywhere a moment. To look for a rickshaw, to wait till the road is clear to cross it, to contemplate lengths of organza in a window, or the vegetables and fruit sold at a wheeled barrow in the street". (p.38) Then follows a description of Jade's attempt to give alms to the children and consequences she is subject to. She is pressed on all sides by imploring children, some with babies in their arms. Children tugging at her clothes, grabbing at her, assaulting her...

Baranay has risen above her feminine voice and foreigner perspective to strike a neutral unbiased language as far as basic values and issues are concerned. She uncannily conjures splashes of Indian reactions, attitudes or relationships with as much authenticity as she does the American, Australian and British ethos. What makes the novel endearing is the high voltage resonance of the poignant tales of the protagonists woven around the theme of globalisation, leaving a sea wave effect on the readers long after they have finished the read.

Neem Dreams, Inez Baranay, Rupa and Co., 2003. p.278, Rs. 295.

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