Publish with us

Follow Penguin

Follow Penguinsters

Follow Hind Pocket Books

‘We That Are Young’, An Excerpt

Preti Taneja in ‘We That Are Young’ recasts ‘King Lear’ in fresh, eviscerating prose that bursts with energy and fierce, beautifully measured rage. The novel revolves around Devraj, founder of India’s most important company, who on retiring demands daughterly love in exchange for shares.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
It’s not about land, it’s about money. He whispers his mantra as the world drops away, swinging like a pendulum around the plane. The glittering ribbon of the Thames, the official stamps of the Royal parks, a bald white dome spiked with a yellow crown, are swallowed by summer’s deep twilight. The plane lifts, the clouds quilt beneath it, tucking England into bed to dream of better times. It is still yesterday, according to his watch. He winds the dial forwards. Now it is tomorrow, only eight hours to go.
He’s landed the window seat with the broken touchscreen: it’s either in-flight information or Slumdog Millionaire, the last movie he ever took Ma to. They went on release weekend. The entire line of people had been brown so for once Ma didn’t hunch in his shadow as if his jeans and camel coat would protect her, explain her. Instead they had the same old fight about Iris, and as he bought toffee popcorn she began to sniff: she said she was catching a chill. She kept up the sniffing as the credits rolled over the entire cast line-dancing on the set of an Indian train station. When they got outside he thought she’d been crying. He put his arms around her: her head was the perfect place for his chin to rest. He asked her if she liked the movie, she said she didn’t at all. It was not real India, except for the songs.
It’s been a long haul from JFK to the LHR stopover. He’s half shot with the comfort of Johnnie Walker, knows it’s not the best but he appreciates the label. It feels bespoke to him, like a child in a gift shop who finds a mug with his own name on it. No gift shop in America has a JIVAN mug so he borrowed JON, and that’s been it since he did this trip the other way. Thirteen-years-old: sold on leaving India by the promise of his first time in the air.
Forward, forward, he wills the plane, drumming his hands on his tray-table, earning himself a sideways glance from the woman wedged into the seat next to him. She’s using her iPhone (4) to photograph the back page of the in-flight magazine: Ambika Gupta: offering you the miracle of advanced Numerology: a digit for your future. She pokes the man on her other side: Sardarji in a blue turban, matching jersey stretched over his belly, stitched with a white Number 5. Dude looks like he’s birthing quintuplets under there. She smiles at him, sits back in her seat. There are thin red lines traced all over her hands in fading bridal henna as if she’s been turned inside out, painful, beautiful, the pattern of her is all paisleys. Her ring is a platinum band with a square cut white diamond and her bag is Longchamp like all the pretty-pretty girls have; navy waterproof with brown leather trim, but small, the cheapest. Don’t you know, pretty girl, that no bag is better than trying too hard? She’s flicking through the magazine: ads for Marc Jacobs, Charlize Theron, flicks to the gadgets, flicks to the movies, clink-chimeclink go the red glass bangles stacked up her wrists.
It sounds like the overture to Ma’s practice music. Played for her to dance Kathak, with precision, while Jivan kept time. Fist thumping into palm, Dha-din-din-dha. His memories are coloured by her last months – Ma, fading from brown to yellow, a bruise that would not heal against the hospital white. Dha-din-din-dha became her fingers beating lightly on his temples – blurring into the rattle of her breath towards the end – the background hum of the plane’s engine in his ears. They are cruising high over the mountains of who knows where.
He pulls out his own magazine. The cover is a cartoon illustration – a tiny brown body topped with an oversized head. Under a halo of white hair, two puffed cheeks blow out candles on a vast birthday cake the shape of an udder. India, sprouting with the turrets of heritage hotels, factory chimneys. Cars race off its surface, bolts of cloth unfurl, tigers hunt goats through spurting oil rigs. The orange headline shouts: Happy 75th Birthday Devraj Bapuji! The spotlight falls on the wily old face. This man, on this cover, on this flight – this is what Ma would have called a sign.

More from the Penguin Digest

error: Content is protected !!