Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: 'Mumbai Matinee' by Ajay Kaul

California author Ajay Kaul earned a degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, Uttarakhand, India and his master’s degree in business administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. He is an engineering manager in Orange County, California while also spending considerable time in Mumbai, India.

Ajay’s book is a memoir – a memoir so well written and fascinating that it also serves as a guide to understanding Indian philosophy, the impact of the corporate world, the extraordinary growth of Mumbai as one of the major cities of the world, and how this growth in importance affects the people both of India and those who visit. And Ajay makes a pint of addressing the impact of global terrorism and violence on this notoriously peaceful center of our planet.

His writing style is conversational – in the best sense of that term - and he makes that fact apparent in his opening lines: ‘I got my first taste of Mumbai in February of 1993 through an internship at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Mumbai. It was a short, three-month assignment, but it had the potential to provide the necessary boost to my résumé when I graduated in May of 1993 as a chemical engineer. I was excited. I would finally get to experience Mumbai firsthand—India’s Hollywood and its financial capital. And I was going to be eight hundred miles away from home. It felt liberating, and without a doubt that added to the excitement. Mumbai being the “financial capital” just meant that the city was the hub for India’s major investment banks and the national stock exchange—that’s what I thought, till I met the likes of Kishore Patil. The TCS office was in the magnificent Air India Building—a key component of the Mumbai skyline and one of the attractions of Nariman Point, the business district that overlooked the Arabian Sea. It was thrilling and intimidating for the lone intern from North India, who had no acquaintances in this huge city. Venky, my mentor at TCS, stopped by my desk and calmed my intimidated self. “First time in Mumbai?” “Gosh, is it that obvious?” “Yeah, it’s written all over your face. But Mumbai is a fun and friendly environment. You’re gonna love it. Just be careful of the pickpockets on the local trains.”
Ajay peppers his memoir with fine black and white illustrations – more Mumbai flavors!

In this flowing format Ajay unveils his talent for bonding the ancient customs and food and beliefs of India in a contemporary language, discussing a bombing and its sequelae and perpetrators, his fascination with Smita (actress and performing arts instructor who captures his eye on the train) and her tragic death, a Muslim/Hindu couple whose families have disowned them, and other well-drawn people who influence Ajay’s life and perception of Mumbai.

This is a rollercoaster ride – Mumbai the rollercoaster and Ajay the effusive passenger – and we are cordially invited to meet India through Ajay’s memorable experiences in Mumbai, interrupted by his studies in the US –‘Two and a half years later, I was a fresh graduate from ASU, home on a two-week vacation. It was good to be back home, but I was missing Mumbai. Delhi’s heat was unbearable—a good excuse to pay Mumbai a visit.’ And on his adventures proceed, growing more natural with all aspects of this fascinating city and its people and foods – and problems - with every
day. This is one delightful book – more than just a fine memoir: this book speaks to the oneness of mankind in the finest manner. Ajay Kaul has created a credible contemporary love song to Mumbai and cordially invites to join him. Grady Harp, March 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.