This is the story of a young girl child who goes on to become a maths prodigy but on coming of age, her other natural desires surface to trouble her and disturb her peace of mind.
Mahesh, who lives in the UK is advised by his daughter Rumi'steacher that the child is gifted and should be sent to a special school. So Rumi is packed off to a school at 10 years of age. On her first day, she waits at the school gate for her father to fetch her home. ?The howls and shrieks of the playground were being funnelled slowly down the main path and out through the gate.? She waits away from the main gate ?where the school was pouring its inhabitants down on to the road because it would be too embarrassing if anyone saw Mahesh pick her up.? After all, she did not want others to know she had a father who tied up his beard in wires. And her friend Sharon Rafferty had once said to her, ?Your dad'sso scary.?
Once on returning from a trip to India, Rumi finds that her main memory of the trip is inextricably linked with the mythology of the Vasi household. Rumi is eight years old when she makes the trip due to the funeral of her maternal grandfather.
Rumi enters her teens and finds a slow change overtake her. She tries to separate herself into two different people with two exclusive sets of personal characteristics. She stores these covert signs of her personality in separate parts of her brain, creating a new split that is much more functional, ?two new compartments, top and bottom?. This means that the top world contains all of her information that is supposed to define her at any one time, leaving the bottom to safeguard everything that needs to be kept hidden. ?The duality of her life starts to take its toll on her: the feeling that she had always to be on her toes, that either there was always something missing from her conversation or that she was oversharing information,? so much so that she distills the anxieties into a simple list of basic do'sand don?ts. Her parents want her to concentrate only on her mathematics while she, due to her natural physical growth and the environment of the British school, wants to pursue activities natural at her age and as seen in her school companions.
One day Rumi escapes, leaving her parents and young brother. She finds her father and mother unbearable and the poor parents do not know where to hide their shame. Rumi is determined that she does not want to see them for the indefinite future. Finally she is placed with a foster family and for now she does not want any contact with them.
Rumi'smother begs of her husband to go and meet her as ?she'sjust a little girl. If we write her a letter in love and ask her to come back, she will do it. She is silly but she'sfifteen-years old only?? But the father is adamant and ignores her pleas. At last, one day, unable to take it any longer, she writes a letter to Rumi and goes out to meet her daughter.
This is a novel about a different cultural background, stark isolation and longing to be loved. The young protagonist fights a lonely battle to find emotional moorings on coming of age and whose childhood memories no longer occupy her every waking moment; what occupies her mind is the longing for friendship.
(Penguin Books India, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)