Milk Teeth [Amrita Mahale]

Start Date: 17 April 2020

Finish Date: 21 April 2020

Goodreads link.

Source: Amazon India Kindle Edition

Goodreads summary:

Childhood allies Ira Kamat and Kartik Kini meet on the terrace of their building in Matunga, Mumbai. A meeting is in progress to decide the fate of the establishment and its residents. And the zeitgeist of the 1990s appears to have touched everyone and everything around them.

Ira is now a journalist on the civic beat, unearthing stories of corruption and indolence, and trying to push back memories of a lost love. Kartik works a corporate job with an MNC, and leads a secret, agonising, exhilarating second life. Between and around them throbs the living, beating heart of Mumbai, city of heaving inequities and limitless dreams.

Milk Teeth is subtle, incisive, unputdownable.

  • I think I’ve read this a year after all my Goodreads friends did. Checking, I see it’s been sixteen months. They all seemed to love it, and I… like it. It’s great writing, competent, makes an emotional connection; but it just doesn’t stand out as one of my all time favourites.
  • If I’m being curmudgeonly, maybe this is because of the whole subplot (and not really a subplot because it ties so tightly into the main plot at the climax) of the building redevelopment. I realise that building redevelopment is an important part of the Bombay / Mumbai experience. But I also think that seeing it and relating to it hard made Mumbai people give it an extra star.
  • I’d once seen a tumblr screenshot or tweet or snarky blogpost or something which when talking about Anna Karenina said despairingly that reading it meant having to sit through never ending discussions of land and agricultural reform in nineteenth century Russia and couldn’t we just get to the story? I liked the agriculture bits, mostly because Levin was such an earnest and sweet tempered guy who still managed to have hidden depths in his observations. But the intricacies of building redevelopment in Mumbai were my Russian land reform. My eyes glazed every time Amrita Mahale went into detail.
  • I got a heavy A Suitable Boy vibe, what with the Muslim boyfriend. But more than just the Muslim boyfriend, the whole deal about being genteel and poor and trying to make good marriages to become genteel and upper middle class.
  • I also got reminded of Prof Rama Bijapurkar’s We Are Like This Only, and how it said that Indian feminism was about women staking out decision making power within the household, and carving out a little space for themselves more than trying to smash the patriarchy. The descriptions of the mothers was so very reminiscent of that; whereas Ira herself was more in the openly-sieze-space mode.
  • The bit in the second section about Ira handing over her salary to her mother, and her father putting some amount into her bank account made me wonder if salary accounts were not a thing in 1996; or if Amrita Mahale had just done this for the drama. Either way, what an empowering thing your own salary account is!
  • The second section, and Ira’s discomfort with Kaiz’s rich friends who mocked the “one coat of paint” people rather than appreciate that they were coming up reminded me of “All things strive” from the Discworld. Ira was striving, and so was Kartik; and all the people who didn’t have to strive but mocked the people who did… were monsters, I suppose.
  • I don’t know if it’s the effect of the lockdown I’m in; but even realising that Kartik’s behaviour towards Ira in the third segment was absolutely scummy, I still felt sorry for him rather than angry at him. He was weak and wicked for not telling Ira the truth earlier on, but in 1996, how many people would have told anybody the truth?
  • Amrita Mahale was quite amazing at pointing out the things which are cliches but which nobody is ready yet to accept as cliches – the Irani cafe / darshini dichotomy particularly sticks out.

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