08 March, 2013

#SpecialFeature:: #Spotlight on Ode to Lata by Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla

Now Presenting:
*** SPECIAL FEATURE - March'13 ***

Banker by day, and denizen of Los Angeles' clubs by night, the protagonist of Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's first novel is navigating between more than just a day job and an active social life. In Ode to Lata, Ali has left behind a tempestuous childhood in postcolonial Kenya, the overprotective mother who raised him on a steady diet of Hindi cinema, an emotionally abusive bisexual lover, and confused memories of his father's violent death at the hands of his mistress. Now his mother's messages ramble on his answering machine when he wants no one but his one obsession, Richard, to call. Passionate and unflinchingly honest in its narrative, Ode to Lata scavenges the depths of one man's misguided search for love in a world of emotionally-void encounters and tangled memories. All the while, Ali's story is intertwined with the unraveling of his parents' own doomed relationship and the film music of Bollywood's eminent singer Lata Mangeshkar (Diva of Indian film music and the namesake of the book's title). And it is this hopelessly romantic music that scores their tormented lives and goads them to pursue love through chaos and ecstasy.

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Read an Excerpt


Whenever she had the choice, my mother preferred taking the train over the arduous six-hour bus ride, or even the elitist hour-long flight from Mombasa to the capital city of Nairobi. 

The East Africa Railway, engineered by the British in 1896 and largely built by immigrant Indians, was responsible for the exodus that brought my ancestors to Kenya. It represents, even now, the romanticism of colonialism -- a different type of mechanical snake, one which undulated through the verdant land its creators once tried, albeit in vain, to tame.  As the seductive plains opened like thighs, Africa enveloped us in her limbs. Years from then, in another corner of the world, even a faint smell, a flash of sight, a distant sound, would send a chill of nostalgia up some part of my body, and for a split second, standing in a crowded mall or in the elevator of some skyscraper, I felt as if I was back there; that it had somehow, miraculously, transposed itself onto my realm.

I had found freedom in geography only to be forever captured in the memories of the home I left behind.  In my dreams, I still ride the railway; listen to all the sounds and senses that are Kenya: the Swahili songs from the village women clad in colorful and light cotton batiks, delicately balancing baskets of fruits and vegetables on their heads; the urchins and villagers who kept pace with the train, awaiting the arrival of fresh customers at stations to buy their hardboiled eggs, biscuits and roasted maize pressed with lemons and chilies; at dawn, the animals of the land responding to our exhilaration with pure indifference; and upon arrival, the chaotic sounds of reunions, departures and coolies competing to ferry our luggage to the car.  And always that smell, that distinct perfume of Kenya, a smell of salt as the breeze came off the ocean, of food cooking on wood fires and mingling with diesel smoke, of the sweat of hard labor everywhere.

As we chugged along such a journey, my mother could always be counted on to tell me two things.  That it was on such a ride one balmy evening, albeit in reverse direction, that I had been conceived, a story which increased detail and waned in credibility. 

“You know,” she said, her eyes widening and one hand flipping up to express amazement. “We never even had, you know, proper intercourse!”

She maintained that on that life-altering night, simple peripheral contact had impregnated her, lending an almost mythic prowess to their virility and a sense of destiny to my close-to-immaculate conception. 

“Your father and I, all we had to do was touch each other and I would become pregnant!”

Contrary to expectation, such details never made me feel even faintly uncomfortable. Rather, they served to inspire me in finding such a marvelous love story of my own.

Perhaps the memory of their lovemaking that night is why melancholy would unfailingly seize her at certain points along the journey and she could be found staring out the window at the fleeting land, her tongue struck silent in her mouth; like she was, years after my father’s demise, reliving that very experience in the same compartment.  It was the same look that came upon her when, listening to an old cassette of filmi music on what we called an impressive 3-in-1 (radio, tape and record player), a song that my father had loved would come on unexpectedly. At such  moments, it was enough just to look at her and know that so much of her innocence, her idealism of love, her zeal for life (a part of herself) had also died with him. At these moments she is completely lost to world that has carried on without his existence, and she could not fathom why.

The other thing she liked to tell me, and which only worked when I was a child, was that if I didn’t obey her by finishing everything on my plate, the two legendary man-eating lions which had killed over a hundred people during the construction of the great railway would tear in through the compartment’s formidable window and gobble me up instead.  I was a scrawny child and she blamed me for making her look bad since all her in-laws had to do was take one look at me and accuse her of starvation.

"There," she said, one hand hoisted up to my mouth with a hillock of rice and the other pointing out to the impenetrable darkness beyond the window, "I think I see them right now."

Raves & Reviews 
'Ode to Lata' is quite an achievement. In his first novel, Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla traces the history of a life over three continents, through three generations of a family, exploring multiple facets of human sexuality in the process. 
-- D.J. Carlile, Los Angeles Times

"Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's Ode to Lata is a multicultural gem that transcends all borders of race, ethnicity, and sexuality. The sharply written story of Ali unravels like a beautiful tapestry, treating the reader to exotic locales and universal longings."
-- Mark Jude Poirier, author of Goats.

"At long last, a suitable boy! This wonderful novel is about Indian writing coming out of the closet. It is also about being a new American under artificial moonlight. It has Melrose Place in it, but also Meena Kumari. A tender, teasing reminder that before there was Hollywood, God made Bollywood, Amen! Dhalla makes a tasty dish, with chutney on the side."
-- Amitava Kumar, author of Passport Photos 

"There are only two things in life worth living for. Passion and Truth", begins Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla's first novel. Ode to Lata serves up deeply gratifying portions of both. It is a reinvigorated tale of one gay man's search for love. Dhalla's undeniable narrative power carries the reader through an emotional terrain where West Hollywood nightclubs and ancient Kenyan mosques stand side-by-side. His insight into questions of sexuality and race helps craft a universal tale of longing, loss and the capacity for change. It is a rare, great novel that manages to be both deeply sad and ultimately uplifting."
-- Christopher Rice, author of A Density of Souls and The Snow Garden

"Just in case there was any doubt, Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla proves once and for all that West Hollywood just ain't no place for sissies. Yes, Ode to Lata delivers, reassuringly, all the usual glittering cliches -- the boys, the bodies, the bars -- and those moments will have you squealing in recognition and delight. But soon Dhalla leads you into far more dangerous territory. What is really going on with that group of friends you like to call "family?". Why does the thought of your mother's visit fill you with such shame and longing? How much of your soul are you willing to give up on those Saturday night sex odysseys? These and other disturbing questions will haunt you long after you have finished this dazzling, unforgettable novel."
-- Doug Guinan, author of California Screaming

"Out of the Indo-African Diaspora comes this searingly frank novel that breaks new ground in its portrayal of a coming out journey spanning Kenya and Los Angeles. Dhalla's writing vividly evokes the losses and also the pleasures of migration, and the oscillation between throbbing desire and aching melancholia as memory and fantasy seduce each other between the sheets and on the dance floor."
-- Sunaina Maira, author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City and coeditor of Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America.

"Dhalla unapologetically rips the cobwebs out of L.A.'s closet and spins them into an engrossing silk tapestry of life and love."
-- Leon Freeman, Associate Editor Genre Magazine

"Raw and edgy... Ghalib Dhalla's first novel leaves the reader hungering for more with his witty and poetic storytelling... hauntingly engaging as he pulls you into Ali's world of love and lust, driven by a fierce yet heartfelt quest for inner truth...."
-- Nora Wong, Detour Magazine

"A devilish indulgence... this author gets kudos for creating Ali, a chatty, outrageously embittered protagonist. The references to Kenyan mosque culture are enlightening (the glossary in back is interesting in its own right) and several auxiliary characters stand out."
--Publishers Weekly

 "Ali is a fairly complex bundle of doubts and neuroses. A native of Kenya but of Indian heritage, he is a banker making a decent living in Los Angeles but also a gay man stumbling through a variety of culture clashes. As he is searches for his version of "Mister Wonderful," we learn a lot about growing up in a culture that accepts men sleeping with men as long as they also marry and have children and where the lighter the skin, the more value on has. Add to the mix of obstacles an abused, overly protective mother, a father who was killed by his mistress when Ali was five; and Ali's having acquired an abusive bisexual lover by the age of 13. Much more than a "coming out" story, this is a brilliant study of culture, religion, body image, racism, sex, and friendship that cuts to the soul. Dhalla's first novel will touch anyone who has felt out of place, unattractive, and unloved. Highly recommended." 
-- Library Journal

"Halfway through this highly readable first novel, Ali, an Indian for whom West Hollywood assimilation means nightly bar crawls with his pack of cronies, is confronted with his visiting mother's distaste for his life and sexual orientation. The gay and Indian cultures clash, and author Dhalla seizes the opportunity to explore this conflicting duality...the struggle becomes poignant, and Ali has some heft...by that point Dhalla has found his voice and given one to an entire community"
-- Eddie Shapiro, OUT

 "Young, gay Ali is a Los Angeles banker by day, a denizen of West Hollywood's bars, gyms, and sex clubs at night. He enters into destructive relationships and empty sexual encounters easily, and he winds up feeling empty and longing for some sort of normalcy. When his mother comes from Kenya for an extended visit, Ali experiences mixed feelings of comfort, gratitude, and frustration. Afterward, relations with his self-selected family of his best friend, a South Asian organization he helped found, and an AIDS outreach program seem in constant flux. After a series of bad decisions, Ali comes to terms with himself and how he arrived where he is. Comfortable with his sexuality but with friends who aren't, Ali is a grown-up professional whose emotional stability is that of a child. Yet he has a great capacity for change. Dhalla turns gay life from cliché to reality as few other novelists have as he tells Ali's story in a racy, edgy manner that is delicious to read."
-- Booklist

"Talk about multiculturalism, this book has it. Last year's Nobel Prize for literature was won by V.S. Naipaul... In Ghalib Dhalla we just may have the gay V. S. Naipaul."
--Robert Hodges, Orange County BLADE

Contact the Author

Buy the Books

Mr.Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla has sportingly agreed to giveaway 2 Autographed Copies of 'The Two Krishnas' to the residents of US and 1 Paperback of 'The Exiles' to a lucky resident of India.
I have set up two separate Rafflecopters one for US Entries and one for Indian Entries. Please enter in the right Rafflecopter.
Also, please remember I will be checking the entries.
All the Best!

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