and then there were three – Review by Carol Smallwood

The memoir and then there were three has a photo cover of Supriya Bhatnagar, the author, as a child with her family. It looks at a childhood in a diverse, changing India beginning with the chapter, Prologue. The three refers to the family loss of her beloved father when Supriya was nine and her mother moves the two daughters from Bombay to Jaipur: “Even though Jaipur was a metropolis where streets had been paved, the city retained the inherent quality of the earth it lay upon.”

Indian culture is deftly sketched by the Maharani Gayatri Divi Girls’ Public School, tea, shopping, street cleaners, and details about Amma, her tiny grandmother with a “little chignon at the nape of her neck”  and a “big bluish green vein that ran down her hand.”

Supriya experiences the blackouts of the 1971 war with Pakistan, the heat and cold of India. The haunting memoir includes universal types such as nosey neighbors, lecherous storekeepers–and what it was to be Hindu woman and not going into any temple during her menstruation: “Customs and traditions become ingrained in us to such an extent that to this day I follow this restriction without questioning its logic.”

The author does not have an arranged marriage but after a long traditional courtship marries Anil who lives on the next street: “I loved the smell of Old Spice, his after-shave, and it was a familiar and strangely comforting smell as Daddy had used it everyday.” Her first kiss at seventeen is a delightful passage about her confusion. She comments about her own children, “As my children grow, I find myself dwelling not so much on the color of their skin but more on their health, their education, and their future.”

It reminded me of God of Small Things by the award-winning Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, with its insight into human nature, the portrayal of the enduring complexities of India, its touches of humor, life through a child’s eyes. I enjoyed the author’s sharing her wide reading and deep appreciation of the classics growing up and concluded how her well-educated parents couldn’t but have had an influence on her becoming the Director of Publications for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs headquartered in Virginia which supports writers and writing programs around the world. A version of the chapter “Shattered” appears in Artful Dodge. One of her short stories appears in Femina, a leading English magazine in India.

Carol Smallwood, in Best New Writing 2010, latest books are: Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (ed.), American Library Association, 2010; Lily’s Odyssey, All Things That Matter Press, 2010.

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