Poor Ramya. A Hindu woman in her late 40’s finds herself out of work (due to downsizing), separated from her husband, childless and nearly friendless. Plus, she is suffering from depression. So much so that she cannot even motivate herself to fill out her papers to get EI assistance. This is the state we meet Ramya in at the beginning of Ramya’s Treasure, Pratap Reddy’s first novel, which follows on the heels of his captivating compilation of short stories, Weather Permitting and Other Stories, published in 2016. Both books are published by Guernica Editions.
Ramya awakes thinking of the small sandalwood chest that has been lying undisturbed for many years on the topmost shelf of the closet in her spare bedroom. [..] She lolls in bed, luxuriating in the indolence of the jobless, wondering what it is that made her think of the box.
The box is nearly 100 years old and was one of only a few things she brought to Canada when she and her husband left Hyderabad in India. It is filled with mostly valueless trinkets and objects she saved or secreted away over the years. It even contains a thirty-year-old bottle of Tik 20, a poisonous insecticide meant to kill bedbugs.
Ramya extracts each object one by one, pausing to reflect on her past, both in India and in Canada. She recalls the events surrounding each object at hand. It serves to tell her story in bits and pieces, so much so that by the end of the novel (and I loved the ending) we have a comprehensive understanding of Ramya.
We learn that Ramya’s dream since she was a young girl, was to be a writer. Forty-some years later, all she has to show for it is a few poems published in a literary magazine. Mr. Reddy summons his inner feminist and draws heavily on his firsthand experience of emigration from India to Canada to construct a character that earns the reader’s full compassionate understanding of her situation. And it is one that only she can pull herself up out of.
Isn’t it time she did something about her dream? In the past weeks, she’s done nothing about anything, postponing even urgent matters. She must change! She must do something! Kuch karo, do something, was the customary advice for youth in India. [..] What should she do? Where should she start?
Ramya’s Treasure is especially detailed in giving the reader an idea of what life was like growing up in a well to do Indian family (her father was a doctor) with servants, but with a mother who never recovered from the loss of a baby son. While her mother’s love may have been lacking, she had the unfailing love of her father and his sister, “Atom Auntie”, who was like a mother and friend to her but passed away too soon. All of this is set against a background of a dreary winter in Toronto: snow, cold, freezing rain, slush. Just the type of weather to keep the indolent inside.
An excellently told story from Mr. Reddy who is a full-time underwriter and part-time writer. He has wisely chosen to write about what he knows in both of his books, convincingly documenting the immigrant’s plight in the Western world. The fact that he has chosen to write from the perspective of a female instead of a male protagonist shows that he is unafraid to challenge himself. I eagerly await his next release to see if he can push out into the wider world with his writing and take it to the next level, for I believe he has what it takes to reach a wider audience. I will put Ramya’s Treasure on my 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.
Ramya’s Treasure by Pratap Reddy
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.