There are good books, there are great books and then there are once-in-a-lifetime books. Cathy Ostlere's 'Karma', which is a novel in verse, falls in the third category for more reasons than one. It hit all the right spots even before I had read the award-winning book. It was as if Karma was meant for me. The title, the cover design, the concept and the style of the book - everything called out to me.
Written in a diary format, the story is told through Maya and Sandeep's poetic entries. Maya is a Indian-origin Canadian teenager who straddles the two worlds of Indian values and her Canadian life on the one hand and her mother's Hindu beliefs and father's Sikh pride on the other. She also has bestfriend-boyfriend issues like any regular teenager and struggles to stay afloat in a sea of identity crises. But Maya's already fragile world crumbles when she loses her mother to depression and is taken to India by her father to be married off. Maya and her bapu land at the time of modern India's worst political crises - the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Maya is separated from her father in Delhi's riotous atmosphere and she escapes to Jodhpur leaving behind her life and her voice.
Enter Sandeep. Child of the desert, an orphan adopted, maverick and Maya's unlikely hero. When Maya is rescued by Sandeep's sister, she is no more than a frightened creature, rendered mute by her grief. Sandeep's family take Maya in for a while and through his words, Sandeep must coax back Maya's spirit and words. Several adventures follow and the seeds of friendship and young love are sown. Sandeep helps reunite Maya with her father, but they must pay the price with separation.
You see how the plot is so thick with action and emotion. Now multiply it many times over with Ostlere's poignant poetry. The poet-novelist writes striking free verse, which is laden with powerful imagery. I am hard pressed to pick a favourite (every line in the book is, really), but I don't think I'll ever forget these lines from Sandeep's diary on page 422.
I hear him arguing
We are made of love. Love! Do you hear me, old
man! We are made of the love that finds us. The
love we make. And even the love we are fated to
Otslere strikes you down, lifts you up, makes you cry and moves you irrevocably with her poignant poetry. There may be only 15 words on a page, but you are never left wanting, so evocative are the images she paints. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about poetry but thinks they do not have the patience for it. Let not its 500 plus pages scare you. For once you've dipped your toes in its first few lines, you'll want to swim and drown in it and never come back again.