By Giridhar Veeramaneni
Whenever I attend book fairs, comic conventions etc… I try to pick up one thing. Exhibiting at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in May I had about the last 5 minutes of the show to look around. I picked up Enjoy the Journey almost purely on a whim. I suppose I felt kinship with an author struggling to sell their self-published work at a somewhat empty fair. Also, I’ve never gone wrong with an Indian author and a few brief glimpses at the text convinced me that this writer would be no different. I don’t know what it is, but I have yet to run across an Indian author I haven’t liked.
I’m quite pleased to add Giridhar Veeramaneni to that list.
Enjoy the Journey is a great example of a book that would probably never get picked up by a ‘professional’ press – big or small. Wittingly or not, it breaks all the rules. It’s a collection of 23 stories that are refreshingly sincere, open and unpretentious about everyday mundane things. It’s not about extreme poverty, or the grand bourgeoisie or the privileged artist. Its stories have clear endings, often with a simple moral or lesson - if not the reader, than for the narrator. There are small spelling mistakes and unusual grammar in the book that I’m sure any publisher would point out. But these ‘incorrect’ (but sensible) aspects really support not only the authors voice, but the fact that this is a real book put together by a real person who lives in real life. A professional editor would probably read a middle-road writing group hack who’ll never make it. I read something quite different from this.
Enjoy the Journey’s stories range from Found by the Sheppard, in which the narrator humorously compares a church (which he tells his wife he is going to) with a strip club next door (which is where he actually goes), to Surviving in Toronto, which isn’t so much a story as a series of tips on how to save money by carrying around free napkins you get at fast food joints, arranging your bus trips to exploit holes in the transfer system, etc… There is no high art here, no pretension, just simple stories about life. Sometimes they clean up a little too cleanly, are almost a bit too much Reader’s Digest (although the Indo-Canadian immigrant angle helps keep this from being cliché), yet you easily forgive this because reading Enjoy the Journey feels like reading a letter from a close, sincere friend.
Nearly every story situates the narrator as an outsider learning a new environment, culture or job, observing, misunderstanding, erring and then finally understanding his surroundings. I think any undergrounder could appreciate the frank, honest and sincere way Veeramaneni looks at the world. Sheshu the Philosopher is a great story about classism/elitism that any underground enthusiast can relate to. Arranged Marriage provides a really interesting look at arranged marriages vs. the western dating system and provides a strong argument for and against both.
One of my favourite moments in the book comes in Creative Writer when the narrator, who has suddenly decided he doesn’t want to be an engineer or doctor like all the rest of the people in his town in India, but a creative writer instead. He applies for a school in Canada with the hopes of studying creative writing. He is so busy that he barely gets a chance to write and so, at the last minute, cobbles something together for the deadline. He is not accepted. It is a big moment of disappointment for the narrator as it represents a complete failure of his dreams. I, on the other hand, bit my nails in anticipation of this and cheered loudly when he failed to be accepted: Enjoy the journey is an excellent example of all the things a professional writing program would crush out of an author – halting someone from following their own path, making their own understandings, being honest and sincere, characteristics Veeramaneni’s work and characters thrive with. After a while, the author overcomes this and pursues his own path in becoming a writer.
I assume this story is true to Veeramaneni’s own experience and it’s a delightful moment in the book because if he had gotten into that course, I have much doubt that he would have gone on to write these honest, relevant and, most importantly, personally unique stories, nor would he have self-published and I wouldn’t have been reading it or enjoying it enough to review it here.
I really recommend this book if you can get your hands on it.
To order: The book is available on amazon.com, however if you contact the author at giridharv1443@NOSPAMhotmail.com I’m sure you can get a good discount off the Amazon price and a signed copy.
Review by Leopold McGinnis