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~Inconvenient and Obnoxious Norman~
Life should be good for Dr. Ravi Kapoor. He's got an excellent job at the hospital, a lovely wife and a nice home but there's one big blot on his otherwise happy landscape - his father-in-law Norman. This objectionable old boy has been banned from every nursing home he's been to and by many he's never even gone near and Ravi and his wife Pauline are running out of options. It looks like they are stuck with Norman and that's no easy ride. He smokes in the house, surfs the net for porn sites on Ravi's computer, burps and farts with alacrity and can never resist a smutty joke. After all, Norman's a man of the world who knows how to say "Show me your pussy" in a score of different exotic languages. If the physical reality of his unwanted relative weren't bad enough, Ravi and Pauline's love life has been shot to pieces - there's nothing more guaranteed to spoil 'the mood' than having a farting masturbating father-in-law in the bedroom next door.
At the end of his tether, Ravi and his Bangalore-based businessman cousin Sonny come up with a cunning plan to both solve Ravi's family woes and to make them some money. They decide to set up an old people's home in Bangalore in a run down hotel called Dunroamin. After all everyone knows that Indians are respectful and kind to older people and of course, it's cheaper and far less regulated to set up a nursing home in India than it is in the UK. That's how they can get away with the on-duty nurse actually being an ex-assistant to a chiropodist and the handsome on-call doctor running the local clap clinic. After Ravi gets Norman's prostate doctor to tell him the women in Bangalore are famously voluptuous and 'up for it', he and Pauline have finally found a way to get the old boy off their hands.
~Pleased to Meet You~
Over the first few chapters, Moggach introduces us to the cast of oldies who are about to leave for Bangalore to make Dunroamin their home. Evelyn's unable to afford the fees at a nice retirement home in the UK because her foolish son has badly invested the proceeds of her house sale. Muriel - who hates 'darkies' - hopes that moving to India will help her to find her fraudster son who's on the run from the law. Retired BBC executive Dorothy has complex reasons for wanting to go to Bangalore that appear to the others as signs of senility but may well turn out to be something completely different. Active oldies and world travellers Douglas and Jean might just be the most irritating pair of 'smug marrieds' since the phrase was coined in Bridget Jones' diary and Madge is on the hunt for a handsome and wealthy Maharajah to bring a bit of spice to her twilight years. These and many other endearing and beautifully crafted characters help to keep the pages turning in 'These Foolish Things'. With a staff almost as elderly and decrepit as the residents, life takes on a gentle pace at Dunroamin. Relatives come and go, minor spats break out over who's getting the most attention from the feral tom cat in the garden, hearts flutter over the visiting doctor with his movie-star good looks, and no matter what medical problems arise, Mrs Cowsagee the manager's wife, can cure all manner of wounds, aches and pains with a good pedicure and some nice toenail polish.
At a time when political leaders are arguing over how to control immigration into the UK, and when the wheels of the NHS would undoubtedly fall off without the support of immigrant workers from the most senior consultants to the poorest paid cleaners, I found it fascinating that Moggach came up with the idea of shipping a bunch of old folk off to India. She sensibly sidesteps a lot of the mystic mumbo-jumbo that many European writers seem to find so tempting but still pulls of a beautiful gentle tale of hope and redemption. If you like, it's a tale in which she shows that you don't always need to wait until you die in order to be reincarnated.
Whilst many people seem to view India as a dirty smelly backward place, Moggach shows us a land where the fact that so many have so little can actually be an inspiration and a source of joy to those who've forgotten how to appreciate how lucky they've been. Even the presence of legless beggars on the street outside gives many of the residents a sense of hope, optimism and rejuvenation and a connection with their fellow man that they'd started to lose back home.
The famous Indian model of respect for their elders plays out charmingly when Evelyn attempts to make a phone call from the 'call centre' over the road from Dunroamin, and finds a group of young telephone workers desperate to pass themselves off as English people from Enfield (of all the unlikely places). Friendships can be formed across the generations and even within the home, between class and backgrounds.
Deborah Moggach never fails to surprise or delight me. Every time I see one of her books in a charity shop or a second hand book store, I buy it, often returning home and discovering I've already got it. Best known for her multiple prize-winning historic novel 'Tulip Fever', she can turn her hand to any genre from mystery to comedy to kitchen-sink drama but when she heads for India or Pakistan and particularly when she's writing comedy, I love her books best of all.
Whether it's this book or any of her others you choose, Moggach's talent lies in painting believable characters that the reader can't fail to engage with and in many instances to care about deeply. There's a certain genius in taking a group of ignored, forgotten and (to their families and the social services) largely unwanted and inconvenient people, and creating for them a new world of opportunity and experience and bringing them each back to life when they seemed to have little left to look forward to.
I have often thought that when I eventually retire (goodness only knows when that will be if they keep raising the pensionable age) I'd like to spend 6 months each year somewhere in India. I'd never imagined the world that Moggach created but the idea of passing out the twilight years surrounded by eccentric but loveable ex-pats and locals filled me too with a sense that my bizarre and unrealistic dream might not be quite so crazy after all.
These Foolish Things, Deborah Moggach
A very different book to what I had expected. I thought it was going to be a light-hearted comedy when in fact, it's much more. I loved all of the characters, feeling they were a good representation either of their gender, age or nationality. The novel opens with Ravi, born in India but lived in London having trained as a doctor. His wife Pauline has the patience of a saint where her father, Norman, is concerned. Norman is once more living with them, having been asked to leave yet another residential home. This is to Ravi's disgust and is having a detrimental effect on his marriage. One evening his cousin Sonny is visiting London on business and Ravi unburdens himself. It is at this point that Sonny hits on the idea to build a residential home in Bangalore, India. The plan comes through and Norman is the first resident.
Slowly, we are introduced to all the characters who eventually come to stay Dunroamin (play on words from `done roaming'). We hear their stories about why they got there and about their family lives. Some of the stories are brutally honest and seem to be representative of the aged today. Their initial fears of moving to India and also their prejudices are eventually put to one side as they realise one culture is not that different to another. Wonderfully written with superb narrative and characterisations, there are definite highlights and lowlights to retiring to a residential home but moving to another country was not one of the lowlights. It had an effect on all of the residents, making them evaluate their lives and what was important to them. I got to the end of novel having felt happy and sad - all the signs of a good writer to instil emotions in their reader.