Indian Immigrants Discover America Isn’t What They Hoped In ‘Border Less’: NPR

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When I finished that of Namrata Poddar borderless, I found myself thinking about the meaning of its title. Dubbed a “novel”, the related short stories that make up borderless suggest several interpretations.

Poddar describes himself as “multilingual with ‘roots’ in the migrant Marwari community of the Thar Desert”. Born in Kolkata and raised in Mumbai, Poddar has lived in France, Mauritius, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where she has taught in the English, French and Francophone, African and World Studies and Asian American Studies departments of the UCLA.

borderless opens in a high-stress call center in Mumbai called “Voizone”, where Dia helps support her family by working night shifts. Despite a steady stream of abusive American clients, Dia and her boyfriend, who also works at Voizone, dream of moving to America. They have charted a course: to be promoted in a call center in the Philippines where they will apply to American business schools.

Dia grows impatient with a particularly mean client, loses her chance for a promotion, and also loses her boyfriend. Dia is the guideline in borderless, although she does not appear in all chapters. We follow her eventual emigration to America and see her through several boyfriends and a husband. She travels back and forth to India to visit her widowed mother and reconnect with friends. Towards the end of the book, we see her as a 75-year-old woman reflecting on her life.

borderless is populated by characters who come and go, and several who appear regularly. Poddar’s organization of the book into two parts, “Roots” and “Routes”, is a clever pun that allows for clear structure.

What Is the title means? The characters’ varied lifestyles make it clear that boundaries remain fluid and somewhat meaningless after emigration to the United States or elsewhere in the west. The characters in this book tend to live near or in communities in their home countries. They remain subject to the social pressures and mores of their compatriots, while trying to adapt to the lifestyles and education of American children. When they are in India, they miss their American life; when they are in America, they suffer from homesickness generated by cultural clashes and are “altered” in their workplace and in their daily lives. The boundaries are blurred; there are fewer (“Less”) due to the ability to travel. Cuisine, language and ways of life are also transplanted.

The characters in Poddar’s stories face problems endemic to both cultures. Long-sought corporate jobs are grueling and physically exhausting. Women cannot persuade their husbands to share household chores and childcare, so they cannot pursue their careers. “Dia figured…that true freedom involved using free will to chart one’s path – a rational, proactive, masculine approach to life.”

Solutions to these problems are equally intractable in both countries, which suggests another meaning for “Border Less”: the stubborn tribulations of gender, race and poverty also cross borders. Impossible demands plague immigrant families facing the unknown.

Traveling these waters, Poddar joins a plethora of writers. Novels about American antagonism toward immigrants are commonplace. that of Steph Cha Your house will payand Gabriela Garcia women and salt are particularly beautiful and recent examples. Both of these books incorporate a compelling plot, allowing each author to critically observe immigrant life within the fabric of their book. In borderlesshowever, one feels that Poddar’s observations on immigrant life are the parcel.

The characters experience inequalities at home and abroad. Bombs explode in Mumbai and 9/11 fractures America. In a story set in Mumbai titled “9/12”, a character named Yadav spits on the ground saying, “Everything in this country, everything everywhere sucks up white skin.”

Poddar is particularly adept at highlighting the illusory nature of the American Dream. America can be very mean to dark-skinned immigrants. Perhaps in the final analysis, the title of this novel is a call to action: Can we please reduce the borders in a meaningful way? Can we try to understand each other better, even and especially people from cultures different from ours?

Towards the end of borderless, Dia discusses her inability to sell her immigrant story in Hollywood. We advise him to tell it like a Hollywood film. “I told them…I just want to share my story with children of immigrants like me, and there are so many like me in America, a country made of immigrants. At that, they shrugged and I decided not to worry about it with the publishing world.”

Namrata Poddar, however, decided to handle the editing. She created an engaging start by bringing us into the lives of those who are leaving and those who are staying. If it plows through familiar ground, it also offers us a new palette of characters. That the individual stories in borderless can fend for themselves testifies to his literary dexterity.

Martha Anne Toll is a DC-based writer and critic. Her first novel, three muses, won the Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction and will be published by Regal House Publishing in the fall of 2022.


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