Review: Milk Teeth

Rating: 5/5

A few chapters into Amrita Mahale’s Milk Teeth, you are caught between the urge to race through the book and the need to ration your reading for fear of finishing it too soon. It isn’t often that a debutante delivers such a deeply immersive story, that too in a voice so rich and nuanced.

Milk Teeth begins like a light hearted rom-com, introducing you to childhood friends, Ira and Kartik, co-habitants of a modest residential building in Matunga. Gradually, though, the plot gathers gravitas, delving into tempestuous relationships, unearthing dark secrets, throwing moral predicaments your way – all against the throbbing, immutable spirit of a city that’s become many a writer’s muse – Bombay!

The story strolls through the city’s palatial structures, dives into its underbelly and emerges to reaffirm the multitude of contradictions, the plurality that is woven so inextricably into its identity. Each character offers a different lens to view the same city through. Ira’s job as a journalist on the civic beat keeps her firmly rooted to reality- to the chaos of local train commute, to the woes of domestic drudgery, to the effort that just keeping one’s head above water (quite literally, sometimes) could demand, in a city like Mumbai.

It is no wonder then that she is drawn to the erudite Kaiz. With his incisive eye for the city’s landscape, fascination for its architecture and ability to place it in a historical context, he is at once a culmination of her intellectual aspirations and a mirror to her insecurities. Kartik, on the other hand, is the most conflicted character in this story. While he enjoys a position of brazen privilege in some walks of life, another part of his world is in absolute tumult. His constant inward tussle to ward off the inevitable is starkly contrasted by his indifference to rein in situations that are in fact in his control.

The real conflict, however, is stirred by the depth of Mahale’s writing, for even as her characters clash, falter, raise hackles, you struggle to choose sides; that is the extent to which you are able to empathise with each of their individual lives and stories.

With this debut novel, Amrita Mahale has set the bar ridiculously high – not just for her own self, but for every other contemporary author aspiring to write Fiction.

-Mitali Bapat

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Home Fire

Rating: 4/5

Kamila Shamsie’s seventh and most recent novel, Home Fire, is nothing short of a literary masterpiece. A contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ celebrated Antigone, Home Fire is a remarkable rendition of conflicting loyalties explored against a backdrop of violence, terror and politics.

Shamsie confers the role of the eponymous Antigone upon Aneeka Pasha – a vivacious, willful British-Pakistani nineteen-year old who shares an inseparable bond with her twin, Parvaiz. Abandoned at a very young age by a radicalized father and orphaned by the death of their mother, the twins have been raised by their elder sister, Isma, who is now a PhD scholar in Massachusetts. The family’s association with Eamonn Lone, the son of Britain’s newly elected Home Secretary of Pakistani descent, brings the story closer to the Greek myth it is based on, drawing fascinating parallels between the ancient Sophoclean characters and their adapted, modern-day counterparts.

Not that the Pashas have ever had a simple, stable life- the siblings have grown up learning to say they never knew their father- but while Aneeka has internalized this reality, Parvaiz gives in to the lures of Islamist propaganda in trying to acquaint himself with his deceased father. When he absconds from home to join the ISIS, his sisters are faced with the excruciating dilemma of choosing between the voice of reason and the ties of love.

This premise plays out in a volatile turn of events that drag you to the crossroads of citizenship and home, state and family, duty and loyalty, begging you to ask yourself how far you would go for the people you love. Despite the plot’s inherent sense of pathos, the author does not resort to any superfluous drama. Her narration is understated and wonderfully honest. There are parts of the story that may seem a tad unconvincing or even abrupt (and which cannot be discussed in detail without giving out spoilers.. so we wont!), but on the whole, Shamsie’s refined writing takes centre stage, relegating these peccadilloes to the periphery.

The book powerfully underlines what it means to live as a Muslim in the world we inhabit today, to have your allegiance questioned on the basis of your religious faith, to be demanded validation for the only identity you’ve ever called your own and to be rejected by the only place you think of as home. Irrespective of whether you like Fiction or not, whether you’re familiar with the original epic or not, if you enjoy reading, Home Fire is a must-read.

– Mitali Bapat

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