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379 words
SHJ Issue 4
Fall 2011

and then there were three…a memoir
by Supriya Bhatnagar

Reviewed by Carol Smallwood

Serving House Books
(September 2010)

Cover of And Then There Were Three By Supriya Bhatnagar

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The memoir, and then there were three…, is a slim book, a breathtaking look at a childhood in a diverse, changing India by Supriya Bhatnagar. The three refers to the family loss of her beloved father when Supriya was nine and her mother moved the two daughters from Bombay to Jaipur: “Even though Jaipur was a metropolis where streets had been paved, the city retained the inherent quality of the earth it lay upon.”

Indian culture is deftly expressed by funerals, tea, shopping, street cleaners, and details such as her grandmother’s hair: “This had been her hairstyle since the time she got married; it was just that the chignon was the size of a grapefruit when she got married, and the size of a walnut by the time she died.” Supriya experiences the blackouts of the 1971 war with Pakistan, the heat and cold of India, and learns the significance of skin color. The haunting memoir includes universal types such as nosey neighbors, lecherous storekeepers—and what it was to be a Hindu woman who was not allowed in any temple during her menstruation: “Customs and traditions become ingrained in us to such an extent that to this day I follow this restriction without questioning its logic.”

The author does not have an arranged marriage but after a long traditional courtship marries Anil who lives on the next street: “I loved the smell of Old Spice, his after-shave, and it was a familiar and strangely comforting smell as Daddy had used it everyday.” She concludes that the loss of her 39-year-old, white-collar-worker father from heart attack made her grow up sooner.

It reminded me of God of Small Things by the award-winning Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, with its insight into human nature, the portrayal of the enduring complexities of India, its touches of humor, life through a child’s eyes. I enjoyed the author’s sharing of her wide reading and deep appreciation of the classics growing up; and concluded that her well-educated parents couldn’t help but have had an influence on her becoming the Director of Publications for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, headquartered in Virginia, which supports writers and writing programs around the world.

—Previously published in Small Press Reviews (15 September 2011)

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury