The only words that filled my childhood were silent, etched on paper in black. I would devour Book after book, huddled in one corner of the room I shared with my brother. I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. The backs of shampoo bottles, the folded pieces of papers that fell out of off-the-counter allergy medications, all the boards and signs that we passed as we’d drive from VA to MD. But in all those years, in all that I read, I never found a girl like me. Though I didn’t notice that until eighth grade, when I found ‘Born Confused’ by Tanuja Desai Hidier in my middle school library. The protagonist knew how to eat rice with hands too! She knew of summers spent in another realm, another continent. The word desi wasn’t foreign to her.
It would be years till I would chance upon another English book written by a South Asian writer. When I did, it was at a Book Fair in Lahore. The book changed the way I write. It reflected my snobbery back at me. It prepared me for the silence that was to fill the coming years of my life. And yes, it taught me to blabber.
Shamsie speaks of the unspoken boundaries, the realms of us and them. We are forced to rethink the class divide that exists in our subconscious as Aliya, our protagonist tries to make sense of the relationship her mysterious cousin, Mariam Apa shared with their cook. In order, to understand their relation, Aliya has to first find out where Mariam Apa came from and why she never spoke of anything but food. She travels back to partition through the stories that her grandmother tells. It is through these stories that we get acquainted with a family horrified by twins, the not-quite twins. What if she plays a part in the stories of the not quite twins? Does she really believe in those stories that shaped her childhood?
While the characters that make up Salt and Saffron are fascinating because oddly enough they’re relate-able or the way they perceive things is, Shamsie’s expression is fresh. It is lively. It is fun and yet it is thought provoking.
And while I don’t have the same copy of the book I bought from that book fair nine years ago, I have one downloaded on my nook and another sitting on my desk that I ordered off Liberty Books. Some days, I find comfort in just knowing it is within arms reach, and some days I find comfort in knowing that with just a click I can get any book delivered to my doorstep. Magic! I’m beginning to believe in it.