November 03, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

At home, Maya feels too Canadian. She doesn't speak her parents' language, Bengali. She doesn't feel comfortable around her parents' Indian friends and resents having to take leftover samosas and dahl to school for lunch.

And at middle school, her classmates—even her friends—make fun of her Indian leftovers. "You never eat normal food," her friend Sally complains. The class bully is even worse—"She's eating nigger food again," he taunts.

"There are no black people in our town, so I guess I'm the next best target. When I die, I'll become an exhibit at the local museum. Mayasri Mukherjee, born in India to a Bengali father and an Anglo-Indian mother. Nobody knew exactly how to classify Maya, but we do know this: she was all mixed up.

I am Nowhere Girl in my Nowhere Land, between Canada and India.

In 1978, in a small town in Canada, there aren't very many Indians, but Maya feels caught between worlds. In Maya Running, Anjali Banerjee has crafted a tale that is funny, sad, and fantastical all at once, perfectly capturing the feeling of being not quite at home in any culture and of seeking one's proper place in the world.

The situation is complicated even further when Maya's glamorous cousin Pinky comes to visit from India. At first, Maya is thrilled to have the company and bask in her reflected glow of exoticism. But then she starts to feel like she's the extra appendage. She feels ordinary and boring. Even her crush Jamie—who'd been acting like he was interested in her—becomes captivated by Pinky.

So Maya makes a crazy wish, a prayer to the golden statue of Ganesh that Pinky brought with her from India. She wishes she were the one who was the center of attention, not Pinky. She wants to be happy, to have Jamie like her again. But Ganesh is a bit of a trickster, and when he grants her wish, things don’t quite turn out as she expected. In the end, Maya learns to find her own path, winding somewhere between India and Canada—and learns that she doesn't have to give either one up in favor of the other. They can exist in the same world…much as she and the glamorous Pinky can coexist and even learn to get along.

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