#DesiReads: Namrata Patel reads from her debut novel, The Candid Life of Meena Dave

Desi Books Ep 81 w/ Namrata Patel Desi Books


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Hello and welcome to Episode 81 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiReads segment, we have Namrata Patel reading from her debut novel, The Candid Life of Meena Dave.

#DESIREADS WITH NAMRATA PATELINTRODUCTION

Namrata Patel is an Indian American writer who resides in Boston. Her writing examines diaspora and dual-cultural identity among Indian Americans and explores this dynamic while also touching on the families we’re born with and those we choose. Namrata has lived in India, New Jersey, Spokane, London, and New York City and has been writing most of her adult life.

 The Candid Life of Meena Dave is about a woman who embarks on an unexpected journey into her past. It is a story about identity, family secrets, and rediscovering the need to belong. Meena Dave is a photojournalist and a nomad. She has no family, no permanent address, and no long-term attachments, preferring to observe the world at a distance through the lens of her camera. But Meena’s solitary life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone in historic Back Bay, Boston. Though Meena’s impulse is to sell it and keep moving, she decides to use her journalistic instinct to follow the story that landed her in the home of a stranger. It’s a mystery that comes with a series of hidden clues, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and a handsome next-door neighbor. For Meena it’s a chance for newfound friendships, community, and culture she never thought possible. And a window into her past she never expected. Now, as everything unknown to Meena comes into focus, she must reconcile who she wants to be with who she really is.

This book has been longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2022 First Novel Prize.

On a personal note, let me just say that, while I’ve yet to read the book, I wanted to bring it to the attention of more readers because we rarely get books, much less fiction, about or from the Gujarati diasporic writers in the US. It’s only been in the past two or three years that I’ve seen a handful of emerging, new writers in the US of Gujarati origin. I’m one of them, of course. But I can’t think of any, except Suketu Mehta—and he doesn’t necessarily write about Gujarati culture, he’s a journalist—who’s received significant attention. What Namrata Patel’s book—and the books of the few other Gujarati American writers featured here recently—shows is how there are different kinds of Gujaratis in the US. Her protagonist, Meena Dave, is a strong career woman and I know several Gujarati American women like her. So I hope you’ll enjoy this.

The transcript of this excerpt is also up on the Desi Books website.

And now, here’s Namrata Patel.

Namrata Patel’s The Candid Life of Meena Dave is about a woman who embarks on an unexpected journey into her past; a story about identity, family secrets, and rediscovering the need to belong. #DesiReads @DesiBooks


DESIREADS WITH NAMRATA PATEL

[Excerpted with permission from The Candid Life of Meena Dave by Namrata Patel. Copyright © 2022 Namrata Patel.]

Chapter One 

Meena Dave was tired, and not just from thirty-six hours of travel. She’d expected a trinket, a ring of some sort, when she’d learned about an inheritance. It should have been easy, a quick stop in Boston on her way to New York from Auckland. 

“If you had responded to our initial inquiries.” 

Meena heard judgment in the husky voice of the woman who sat on the other side of the large mahogany desk. The tall woman in the black, fitted pantsuit belonged in this corner office with oversize windows. 

“I was in New Zealand,” Meena said. And Tasmania, Tokyo, and Nova Scotia before that. She sat taller to fight the weight of fatigue in her body. Besides, most of her communication happened via email or text. She didn’t check her actual mail for months at a time. 

“As I mentioned,” Sandhya Shah continued, “you’ve wasted half of the allotted one year, but at least you’ve managed to make it within the window.” 

Meena reread the paperwork. “Are you sure you have the right person? I didn’t know Neha Patel.” Another reason she hadn’t prioritized this when she’d picked up her mail from her Manhattan PO box three months earlier on her way from Portugal to the Pacific. 

“We’ve verified your identity, and we don’t make careless mistakes at Menon and Shah.” 

Meena glanced at the index card in her hand. It was like the ones she’d made herself in high school when studying for the SAT. This had a single word and its definition. 

engineer (noun) 

1 a.: a designer or builder of engines 

b.: a person who is trained in or follows as a profession a branch of engineering 

c.: a person who carries through an enterprise by skillful or artful contrivance 

engineer (verb) 

2 a.: to contrive or plan out usually with more or less subtle skill and craft

b.: to guide the course of 

“And what is this?” Meena held it up to the lawyer. 

“It was part of the packet to be turned over to you along with the keys.” Sandhya tapped a manicured nail on the stack in front of Meena. 

“As soon as you sign the paperwork, you can take possession.” 

Meena skimmed the few paragraphs she could understand and glossed over the legalese. 

“To review the terms . . .” 

“I have to wait out the full year—well, six months now—before I can sell it,” Meena cut off the lawyer. 

“And it can only be sold to one of the other four owners of the building,” Sandhya said. “No outside buyers.” 

Meena resisted the urge to take her long hair out of its messy bun and braid the edges. A habit her mom had never approved of. Hannah Dave, the only mother who counted. She stared out the large windows. The sky was thick with clouds. Leaf-diving sky, her dad had called it. They’d go out in the backyard and rake the fallen leaves into heaping piles. Then Meena would take a running start and jump in, belly-first. This was why she’d avoided the state of Massachusetts since she’d left it right after high school. Too many memories. 

 “What if I don’t want it?” Not that Meena was reckless. An apartment in the historic area of Back Bay wasn’t something she could turn down when she supported herself as a freelance photojournalist.

“An apartment in the historic area of Back Bay wasn’t something she could turn down . . . as a freelance photojournalist.” Namrata Patel readers from The Candid Life of Meena Dave #DesiReads @DesiBooks

“Do you not?” The lawyer knew Meena’s hesitation was a bluff. 

Meena resisted the urge to sigh. “I don’t actually have to live there.”

Her life wasn’t suited to permanence. “I have a flight out in a few hours.” 

Sandhya looked at Meena as if none of this was her problem. “The keys are in this envelope along with the building passcode. The utilities, including Wi-Fi, have been paid for until April, then you can decide what you want to do next.” 

Meena picked up the pen. “Needs must.” She murmured her mother’s favorite phrase and signed where the plastic tabs indicated. 

Sandhya gathered the papers, gave Meena the duplicates, and stood to signal the end of the meeting. 

“What if no one in the building offers to buy?” 

“Then you keep it until they do,” Sandhya said. “The apartment is in a condominium, so you will be responsible for maintenance, utilities, and expenses even if you don’t live there.” 

Meena shoved her copies of the paperwork into a large yellow envelope along with the keys and the index card and nodded to the lawyer before lifting her heavy backpack onto one shoulder. She walked out of the building into the bustling area of Downtown Crossing and headed toward Boston Common. While the city was familiar from childhood school trips, she still needed the map on her phone to guide her to the address. 

It was barely ten in the morning, and Back Bay was about a twenty-minute walk. She would check it out, assess the condition of the place, and figure out her next steps. If she couldn’t do anything with it for six months, she’d let it sit. Staying here wasn’t an option. She was in between assignments, which meant scheduling editor meetings in New York to line up more gigs. More importantly, this state was her past, and Meena didn’t look back. Ever. 

She didn’t know Neha Patel, but people didn’t leave strangers gifts this large. There was a connection here, and she’d be foolish not to consider the likeliest reason for the apartment falling into her hands. Hannah Dave had been Meena’s mother in every sense but the biological. This inheritance, the weight of it, with specific conditions, felt as if someone were easing their guilt in the afterlife.

“This inheritance, the weight of it, with specific conditions, felt as if someone were easing their guilt in the afterlife.” Namrata Patel readers from The Candid Life of Meena Dave #DesiReads @DesiBooks

She was close, maybe a block or two away, when chaos in the form of a tiny puppy upended it all. One minute she was staring at her phone, envelope in hand. The next she was tangled up in a loose leash, and she lost her balance thanks to her heavy backpack and fell to her knees. She winced as she heard her phone hit the concrete. Then the little monster got a hold of her envelope and shook it around in its mouth hard enough for the keys to pop out. Which distracted the fur ball enough to replace the envelope with the key ring as its new chew toy. She reached for it as a brisk gust of October wind sent the envelope flying away from her. 

She raced over and stopped the rolling paper with one booted foot, slid it toward her, and lunged left for the leash to keep the puppy from running off with her keys. She teetered in an unnatural warrior pose. 

“Oh no you don’t.” 

The fur ball tilted its head as if curious about her awkward position with one foot on the envelope and her other leg and arm stretched out to keep the dog in place. 

“Wally, stop,” a man shouted as he ran toward Meena and the pup. He eyed her awkward stance. “Impressive.” 

“Yoga.” 

“Namaste.” 

“That’s not OK.” People often assumed her identity simply because of her brown skin. 

“I’m Indian,” he said, grinning. “I’m allowed.” 

Meena handed him the leash and picked up the papers. She found her phone and begged, “Don’t be dead.” 

“Talking to inanimate objects could be a sign of injury,” he said.

“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” 

Meena let out a frustrated breath. “Doctor?” 

“Special effects engineer.” He grinned as he picked up the puppy. 

“What do you have here, Wally?” 

“My keys.” 

He tugged them from between Wally’s teeth and stared at them. Meena noticed curiosity on his face. She reached over and took them from him, then wiped them down on her cargo jacket. 

“Do you need directions?” 

“I’m fine.” She’d been on her own since she was sixteen. Help wasn’t necessary. 

“On behalf of Wally,” he said, “I apologize. I let go for one second and he ran off. He’s a work in progress. I hope.” 

There was frustration mixed with adoration in his voice as he put the puppy down on the ground but kept a firm grasp on the leash. 

Meena didn’t want to return his smile but had to admit that he was effortlessly friendly. An inch or two taller than her five-foot-eight height, he was dressed for fall in an REI parka over jeans. His black hair ruffled in the breeze. Meena would bet he used his dimples to charm himself into and out of whatever he wanted. 

Wally ran around her and tangled up his leash in between her legs. Meena lost her balance and grabbed the man’s shoulder. He wrapped his free hand around her and held her steady. “Wally, stop. Heel. Sit.” With his hand still holding her, he unclipped the leash and grabbed the puppy up in his other arm. “We need to work on manners.” 

Meena let go and stepped back. “Good luck.” She turned away. 

“Wait,” the man called out to her. “If you’re going somewhere nearby, we can walk with you. I live in this neighborhood.” 

“I don’t know you,” Meena said. 

“Sam Vora,” he offered. 

Meena shook her phone. The screen was black, likely a permanent condition. Still, she remembered the map, and she wasn’t directionally challenged. The apartment was one street over. “I’m good.” 

“According to the art of conversation, when one person introduces themselves, it’s usually an invitation for the other to do the same,” Sam said. 

Meena gave him a slight smile. “Take care, Sam Vora.” 

She picked up her backpack and headed in the opposite direction from the man and his dog.


Namrata Patel’s The Candid Life of Meena Dave is about a woman who embarks on an unexpected journey into her past; a story about identity, family secrets, and rediscovering the need to belong. #DesiReads @DesiBooks


You’ve been listening to episode 81 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiReads was with Namrata Patel reading from her debut novel, The Candid Life of Meena Dave.

Episode 82 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website, desibooks.co, if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. And please share this via social media to support the writer and help raise the tide of South Asian literature. Thank you.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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