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Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal
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Haunting Bombay (2009)

by Shilpa Agarwal

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wow.... (more to come) ( )
  ming.l | Mar 31, 2013 |
Pinky Mittal is being raised by her grandmother after her mother's death when she was just a baby. Her life in the large bungalow in one of Bombay's most desirable neighborhoods in anything but happy. Her grandmother treats her kindly and the two have a loving relationship but her extended family is another matter. Her uncle is an alcoholic, her aunt makes her feel unwanted at every opportunity, the servants don't treat her badly but don't seem to care much for her, and her three cousins, all boys, are, well, boys.

One night, after humiliating herself in front of one of her cousins, Nimish who she secretly loves, she does something that throws the whole house into chaos. Pinky unlocks a bathroom door that is bolted each night unknowingly releasing a ghost that has remained dormant and hidden for years. When the monsoon season arrives, the ghost uses the water to escape and torments the family fully intending to take revenge for the years of being ignored and shut away.

I had trouble getting into this book. I wanted to like the characters but couldn't become attached. The family is dysfunctional but not any worse than one would expect with their history. It's easy to see why Pinky's aunt would be hostile towards her and why her uncle would be drowning himself in alcohol. I thought the ghost idea was a nice way to showcase the family's problems, but, honestly, I didn't really care what happened to any of them.

However, I'm glad I finished it. The story has a strange redeeming quality to it and after the last page, I did feel something for these people and the sad state of their lives. In the end, I was happy to see Pinky find herself and the courage to stand up to her aunt. It was also nice to see the family start to pull itself back together. I do wish I would have experienced more of the redeeming affect while I was reading; it would have made it much more enjoyable. In the end, it was an okay read but not a book I will go back to. ( )
  justabookreader | Oct 26, 2009 |
Ghosts are like secrets. You may not always be able to see them, but they linger, always present, always influencing those around them. Shilpa Agarwal's novel, Haunting Bombay, tells the story of the Mittal family, three generations living under the same roof. Secrets cannot be hidden forever. And the dark family secret in the Mittal household would soon be let loose by the unbolting of a door by an innocent girl.

Pinky is thirteen years old. The year is 1960. She never knew her mother, a refugee who died during the Partition. Pinky was taken in by her loving grandmother, Maji. The two live with Maji’s only son, his wife and their three sons. Pinky has never understood why the door to the children’s bathing area is bolted every night. One night, in the heat of despair, Pinky dares to unlock the door and it unleashes the ghost of a baby once drowned, who is now set on vengeance.

A family, that by all appearances on the outside is healthy and happy, suddenly begins to disintegrate, proving just how fragile their bonds truly were. Pinky’s uncle for years has turned to alcohol to soothe his suffering. His wife longs for the upper hand, always wanting to be the best among her friends and family, and will do just about anything to get her way. Seventeen-year-old Nimish moons for the neighbor girl while Pinky pines for him. Then there are the twins, one with a sweet tooth and the other a bit of a trouble maker. The four servants in the house have their own stories: two sisters having fled famine and worse in their childhood; the driver from the slums; and the cook, a man of honor who is devoted to his wife. Maji seems to be the one person who is holding the family together, but as her control slips, and as the family’s secrets begin to surface, they risk losing everything. Pinky is at the core of it all, and she is determined to uncover the truth in order to save her family.

Shilpa Agarwal reaches into her own family history to help shape her fictional tale, offering the reader a glimpse into a family’s darkest and also strongest moments. It was easy to get lost in the story and feel like a part of the family. I was especially drawn to Pinky, so innocent and yet courageous. She may not have known her place in the household, but she certainly knows her own mind. I was also partial to Nimish, always lost in his books. He may not have been the strongest character, but he loved deeply.

The heat before the monsoons and then the coming of the harsh rain mirrored the events taking place in the novel: a seemingly peaceful existence suddenly uprooted by the storms. The author brings Bombay to life, offering a taste of Indian culture as she takes the reader into an upper class Indian family as well as deep into the city’s underbelly, where crime runs rampant. The reader gets a sense of the injustices that existed during that time period, including the corruption and prejudices.

The magical aspects of the story are interwoven into the family’s tragedy seamlessly. In the author’s guest post here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, Shilpa Agarwal mentions that the spirits are “a metaphor for those who have been silenced.” In Haunting Bombay, the ghosts have no voice and are often invisible; however, they can only be ignored for so long. The ghosts, like the Mittal family’s secrets, will come out and be heard or they will destroy all those who suppress them.

Haunting Bombay lives up to its title. It is a haunting tale full of mystery, forbidden love, dark secrets, and mysticism. Shilpa Agarwal’s writing is beautiful, her story intense. I fell in love with this novel on the very first page and that feeling never wavered. If anything, it grew with each turn of the page. There was so much I liked about this novel; so much I haven’t said. Do you have a day or two? Haunting Bombay would make a great book club selection. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Oct 9, 2009 |
Shilpa Agarwal's Haunting Bombay immerses readers in a deeply saturated drama and literary ghost story reminiscent of the Bollywood films the Mittal family's driver Gulu adapts into his own adventures. Set in Bombay, India, the story spans two decades from the end of World War II into the 1960s.

Each member of the Mittal family is vivid from the main protagonist Pinky, a thirteen-year-old girl uncomfortable with her place in the family and grandmother Maji, who keeps the family unit running smoothly and keeps all of its secrets secure to self-centered Savita, Maji's daughter-in-law bent on driving Pinky out and her seventeen-year-old son Nimish, who always has his head in a book and is too timid to talk to the girl he has a crush on.

"Pinky dreamt she was drowning. She felt herself being pushed down into water, down, down, down until her lungs began to burst. The only way out was to push her head farther in, to stop thrashing, to trust that she would not die. But each time she grew afraid, each time she thrashed. Each time she startled awake just as she was about to pass out." (Page 111)

Pinky's mother dies during the partition of India, forcing her to become a refugee, but Maji takes her granddaughter into her bungalow, along with her son, his wife, and their three boys. The mystery of the bolted bathroom door at night is resolved when Pinky in a fit of frustration unbolts the door. Haunting Bombay is about the secrets buried within a family and the ghosts tied to those secrets until they burst through the bathroom door.

"Here it was, proof that she had once inhabited this place at the world's rim, before she had begun to bleed, before the women had gathered, their salty voices crooning the ancient tale of the menstruating girl who caused the waves to turn blood-red and sea snakes to infest the waters." (Page 4)

Agarwal's poetic language is like a siren song, pulling the reader into the Mittal family's struggles with one another. With the start of the monsoon season accompanied by the heavy rains, the ghost grows more powerful and the drama more turbulent. Readers looking for a ghost story will get more than they bargained for with Haunting Bombay. It's a ghost story, mystery, and historical novel carefully crafted to hypnotize the reader. ( )
  sagustocox | Oct 8, 2009 |
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To Mom, Dad, and James for your enduring faith in me.
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The girl moved like water itself, unthinkingly toward the darkening horizon.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A supernatural mystery set in 1960's India.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 156947558X, Hardcover)

"[An] intriguing debut novel...Agarwal seeks to give voice to the dispossessed through the supernatural."—USA Today


"[Shilpa] Agarwal's work will definitely appeal to fans of Monica Ali and Jhumpa Lahiri by virtue of its characters and setting, but it retains a fresh, original feel that will draw in new readers with its own literary merit. Recommended for all but the smallest fiction collections."—Library Journal

“In her stunning debut novel Shilpa Agarwal takes on the ghosts that bedevil young Pinky Mittal's extended family and dispatches them with rambunctious wit and affection. The result is like finely wrought mirror work, a glittering tapestry of vibrant contradictions, characters, and mysteries. Haunting Bombay flirts deliciously with the true spirit of India.”—Aimee Liu, author of Flash House

After her mother’s death crossing the border from Pakistan to India during Partition, baby Pinky was taken in by her grandmother, Maji, the matriarch of the powerful Mittal family. Now thirteen years old, Pinky lives with her grandmother and her uncle’s family in a bungalow on the Malabar Heights in Bombay. While she has never really been accepted by her uncle’s family, she has always had Maji’s love.

One day, as monsoons engulf the city, Pinky opens a mysteriously bolted door, unleashing the ghosts of an infant who drowned shortly before Pinky’s arrival and of the nursemaid who cared for the child. Three generations of the Mittal family must struggle to come to terms with their secrets amidst hidden shame, forbidden love, and a call for absolute sacrifice.

Shilpa Agarwal was born in Bombay and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Duke University and UCLA and has taught at both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. As an unpublished novel, Haunting Bombay won a 2003 First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers. It is her first novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Thirteen-year-old Pinky Mittal lives with her obese, matriarchal grandmother, Maji; her alcoholic uncle, Jaginder; bitter aunt Savita; and three teenage male cousins. Taken in as an infant by her grandmother after her mother died, Pinky knows she's Maji's favorite, even if her aunt despises her. Driven by adolescent curiosity, Pinky unlocks a door in her family bungalow that has been bolted her entire life and unleashes the ghost of an infant girl and her midwife, sending her whole family into a tailspin. Surrounded by superstitions and spirituality, Pinky tries to unravel a past rife with pain and deceit as three generations of her formerly stalwart family crumble around her.--From Amazon.… (more)

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