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by Lavanya Sankaran
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

As its title story indicates, Lavanya Sankaran's remarkable debut rolls out the red carpet and warmly welcomes readers to the colorful city of Bangalore. These short stories are peopled by richly drawn characters from all walks of Indian life who together paint a vivid picture of Bangalore today. As expected, we have traditional mothers, intent on finding suitable marriage partners for their offspring. But we also have the offspring: invariably American-educated, modern in outlook, with aspirations of worldly success and sensual pleasures and with nary a thought of marriage. American popular culture has apparently grabbed hold of India's younger inhabitants, while the older generations are hanging onto their culture for dear life.

Sankaran is a compelling storyteller who writes with compassion and charm. She is adept at getting into the heads of her characters, revealing their hopes and fears with surprising depth, even in the short-story format. Memorable characters include the retired and gossipy Mr D'Costa, who, because his ailing wife is no longer a companion to him, seeks company from everyone else. His greatest wish is to befriend his neighbours, the hip young Mrs Kapur and her husband, who are fresh back from an extended stay in America; but his outlook and theirs are so dissimilar that they might as well be on different planets.

Another outstanding character is the impoverished Indian chauffeur in the title story who drives Mrs Chaudhary, his wealthy "may-dum", in the elegant car with the opulent furnishings and rich red carpet he adores but at whose outdated interior the stylish Mrs Chaudhary and her friend scoff. Rangappa feels absolutely privileged to be driving Mrs Chaudhary about town but is mortified by her wild Western ways; he is a "decent, respectable man" with a good job, while she wears clothes that brazenly expose her arms and legs. What would people think of him if they saw her attire? His chief concern is a ruined reputation.

There is also the American-born Priya, who is deeply disappointed in her parents for abandoning their conservative Tamil lifestyle to "immerse themselves in Money and McNuggets" in America. She has a glorified image of India, so her father urges her to go and experience firsthand the India she so reveres. Her impressions are priceless.

These stories are a picturesque treat. The portrait that ultimately emerges is that of a city and a people in transition. We gain some insight into the global phenomenon of American popular culture and how it is being accommodated in one part of the world in spite of the resulting conflict and tensions. Let's hope there will be more great reads from Sankaran in the future!