Book: Slices of Life
Author: Annan Boodram
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Annan Boodram’s Slices of Life is masterful collection of philosophical narratives, avowedly independent, and well outside the confines of groupthink.
‘Forbidden,’ a literary tour de force is arguably Boodram’s most ambitious effort. He seamlessly moves from prose to verse and blends diverse styles, tone and colour into a hypnotic tapestry. Throughout, he holds our attention. Set among army recruits his is a theme that brims with aesthetics, passion, patriotism, and tradition. It’s a compelling narrative that speaks to today’s youth while challenging religio-political lore crafted over millennia.
Ravi, his protagonist, bangs against the walls of custom. He pushes only to have the guardians of the status quo push back harder. He stands his ground. They reciprocate. For a single decision, controversial as it might be, as deliberate and judicious as he believed, he is vilified and ostracized by his community.
For purely existential value, ‘Forbidden’ indelibly captures the imagination like no other offering.
“I am a Hindu. Drill Sergeant. I am me…I cannot be anything else. Nor am I trying to be.”
“By the way, why is it you guys call your women bitches and each other nigg—s, but object when others do so?”
There is a rebellious exoticism about Ravi. He is Guyanese. He brings colour into a predictable, parochial setting. He is profoundly thoughtful and intrepid in the face of barking drill sergeants. His beliefs he encapsulates in Legacy, a commentary he wrote on life and destiny.
He delivers: “Black, White, Red. Hello, Brown. Same blood, same flesh, same bones, same sinew
West Indian, American, Chinese, African, Asian. Same tears, same laughter, same pains, same pleasure
Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew. All hope and pray and to Him look up
First World. Second World, Third World, Every World. Each struggles and strives, dreams to capture.”
Boodram’s message is weighty and enduringly relevant. His principal actors are perspicacious, uncompromising, unbowed by life’s harshest terrain.
In ‘Nana,’ we are introduced to an impressive man treated reverentially by his village. He is adept at his every pursuit, naturally adaptive, a rare find, many believe. Sagacious, compassionate, engaging and selfless, he has earned his epaulets. Never did he forge transactional relationships. He engages everyone, especially Rishi. He is selfless, and compassionate, enough to shape Rishi’s course in life.
We are moved to his new path.
“First Rishi feasted on the fruits of Nana’s harvest – experiences and reflections garnered over a lifetime. Then for the next three months, Rishi became engaged in intense reading and research. He resigned from his job, took leave of his parents and was off. In India, the land of his forefathers, he embarked on a pilgrimage of reconnection.
“Finally, understanding came to him like Indra’s (Divine manifestation as God of Rain, Lighting and Thunder) lightning bolt. He knew now that the journey was cyclic and each life needed to be maximized to its fullest karmic potential.
“In the conquest over the gross self and the acquisition of a deeper spiritual self, Rishi could fully grasp the metaphysical implications of ‘raising the Kundalini’ and ‘opening the third eye.’
‘From Deep Within’ captures love’s enduring quality. It is a searing affair between Sunil and Seema upon whom Providence smiled and the Patra removed all doubt of their affection. Their love, supposedly sealed by destiny, is challenged by exigency of circumstance. It is an incredulous turn of events.
Sunil reads a harrowing missive.
“I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me for the pain this news will bring you…The years may dull my pain but they will never kill my love. I am getting the married for all the wrong reasons, yet there is very little I can do about it except to put a final end to things…And one day you will find someone much worthier than me to walk with you, hand in hand, and to bear your children as wonderful as
Sunil is rattled. “Selling her soul for a green card.”
He is determined, though, to fulfill the will of the gods. He is crestfallen, but it is ephemeral. Love is enduring, love is binding.
Seema eventually balks at the most deterministic moment.
“Do you promise the dulha (groom) that you will abide by his requests?” asks the pandit.
‘No,’ stated Seema in a firm voice as she sensed someone standing up in the gathering. Quickly she looked up. There he was. Her feet sped of their own volition. She was in his arms…”
Amid these heated passions, Boodram showcases the depth, splendour and complexity of East Indian culture.
In ‘No More Tears,’ he stokes discourse on religious strictures and their impact on women in particular. It challenges tradition and authority and couldn’t be more timely.
Mention is made of sati (women enter funeral pyres with their deceased husband as a show of dedication), and Jauhar – “the practice of mass burning of all wives and daughters in an entire town/district to prevent them from falling into the heads of the enemy.”
We are reminded that “in the Ramayan, Sita was held up as Rama’s equal in every way – decisions were made in consultation, she even dared to advance him and challenge him and she shared experiences and suffering with him, [but] in the end he yielded to rumored about her infidelity.”
In “The Grave,” “Making of a President” and “The Pandit Run,” Boodram continues to prove his salt as a writer of enviable prowess. Passionately authentic, Slices of Life is invaluable and instructive,
a boon for anyone keen on East Indian lore.
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