New Yorker in Hyderabad
FOR most people, India represents excitement, exotic cuisine, historical monuments, ancient folklore, and, most of all, adventure. Most people would jump at the chance to go to India, what more live there for an extended period of time. However, Jenny Feldon is not most people.
In her travelogue/memoir, Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned To Love Mangos, Bollywood And Water Buffalo, Feldon makes no secret of the fact that she is Manhattanite through and through, and she never wanted to trade the dusty, traffic-congested and familiarity of New York for the dusty, traffic-congested and totally unknown Hyderabad, even if it is only for two years.
One day, Feldon’s husband, Jay, informs her that his bosses have chosen him to set up a department of the corporation, nicknamed Region 10, in Hyderabad.
While it is a good career move for Jay, it puts Feldon in two states of mind. On the one hand, she’d have to give up her career in New York, but on the other hand, she’d be going to the birth country of yoga (Feldon practises yoga religiously), she’d be an expat housewife, and she’d be able to write about her many adventures in India on her blog.
However, in reality, India was not how Feldon had imagined.
The first days and weeks saw Feldon making numerous cultural faux pas and experiencing India head-on, such as leaving the house without rupees but armed with an American Express card, which she tries to buy coffee with; trying to get herself understood with the locals in various shops; screaming with fright upon taking her first rickshaw ride; getting closely acquainted with a toilet bowl, post-Indian meal in a restaurant.
Though Feldon puts a humorous spin on her situation, she is also transparent in informing her readers that she did not adapt very well to both expat life and Hyderabad.
Being lonely and a combination of fear, irritation and frustration of being in India led Feldon down a path of depression, resulting in her becoming viciously cruel towards Jay and a tad irritating to her readers.
Feldon’s constant whinging about how awful life in India is must have irritated Jay as well, as towards the end of the second part of the book, he sends her back to New York. He also uttered the word “divorce”, which predictably changes Feldon’s attitude towards India. With a new resolve to become a better wife and not run India down continually, Feldon finally gives in and hires staff to assist with maintaining a household finds a friend in Anjali, a fan of Feldon’s blog; she re-starts yoga; tries her first ever mango; does a bit of volunteer work; and even takes part in a Bollywood-style dance with an orphanage where she volunteered.
Though Karma Gone Bad is an interesting read about life in India as seen through the eyes of a New Yorker, the bulk of it comes across as one long list of complaints about everything that is wrong with India.
This is a shame as, by the third part of the book, Feldon had started to explore more of India, describing the various monuments she visited with detail, such as her visit to the Taj Mahal.
Despite the negatives, Karma Gone Bad is an easy read – Feldon has the gift to draw her readers in. And despite her complaints, readers will root for Feldon and her attempts at trying to fit into a new culture and environment.
The verdict for Karma Gone Bad: Serious travellers (backpackers with no qualms about eating by the side of the road) best avoid this book; armchair travellers with a secret guilty pleasure of easy reading laced with bits of chick-lit and some psychology will be pleased with this offering.