Book review: Beyond the Rainbow

Murli Melwani, Beyond the Rainbow, Pune, Black-and-white Fountain, Pune, 2020, 232 pages.

Book review by Saaz Aggarwal

One of the most interesting aspects of the Sindhi diaspora are its many communities scattered in ports around the world, and this collection of fine short stories is an intimate glimpse into its realities by one of its members, Murli Melwani, professor at Sankerdev College, Shillong, Meghalaya (India). In the 1980s, political events in Shillong caused Murli to leave the home in which his family had settled after Partition. In his forties, he became a businessman, lived briefly in Hong Kong, then in Taiwan for twenty-five years, and eventually in 2005 moved to the US, where he now lives. All this while, he continued to write, and his academic repertoire includes Themes in the Indian Short Story in EnglishAs a businessman, Murli was buying in one place to sell in another, as Sindhi businessmen have done for centuries. In the 1850s, they began to do so in countries around the world, and Murli is one of the many who followed this tradition, establishing the theme for his own short stories. Set in various exotic locations, each of the short stories in this collection was inspired by something Murli saw or heard, and he refers to the collection as “a gift of my travels.”

Says Murli, on the cover of the book:We are viewed as shallow for our ability to suppress negative thoughts, devote unbounded energy to business and live a flashy lifestyle. Being individualistic and opinionated by nature, and because we have not shown a cohesive and attractive face to the world, Hindu Sindhis are seen as stereotypes. With these stories, I have endeavored to show that we have lives as individuals too.In Water on a Hot Plate, Hari and Rajni are visiting their son in Toronto, and they meet an Indian Chinese lady who runs a restaurant there. They converse with her in Mandarin—learned during their several years spent in Taiwan; of course, they speak to her in Hindi and English too. From the “Bollywood” music playing in the background, Hari can tell that the India she belonged to was not the India he had left. Resh, their lunch guest, is visiting from Curacao. She speaks Dutch and English and even idiomatic Papiamentu—a Portuguese and Spanish-based Creole language—but not Sindhi.Writing a Fairy Tale is a gripping love story in which the reader journeys into the rainforests of eco-versatile Chile—and unexpectedly encounters the Arabic aspects of the country too. The MexicanGirlfriend is also a love story, and though set in a home by a lake on the U.S. border where migratory birds flock—a real place, as Murli told me when I asked—has more sinister than exotic twists. Followed by The Bhorwani Marriage, a high-energy satire of Sindhi weddings including an expose of the business opportunities offered by matchmaking in the diaspora, it appears that Sindhis do not really do romance. Family comes overwhelmingly first; business and profits are a priority; and comfort of living is never going to be sacrificed for a lover.It is not that everyone in the community is money minded. This book takes us beyond that stereotype, with businessmen who are polite, mature and love to read. The skilled portrayals of many different kinds of relationships reveal the author to be an exceptionally subtle and discerning person himself. Even the businessman in shiva with a garland, lonely in his marriage, “had grown sensitive and become aware of many things. He had come to understand the right and wrong of things and the meaning and worth of happiness.”These are splendid stories: good plots, lifelike characters, beautifully laid out in clean, distinctive language. However, Murli is not just an observer of humans and their situation, not just a weaver of tales—he is a skilled businessman too. His stories provide practical never-fail tips on selling, exposure to business cycles, and the understanding that large investments, even the most obvious, could turn out to be ruinous. There are young employees who clone their employers, swiftly learning the trade and soon enough snatching it out from under their employer’s feet to set up as competitors. Some families have members living in other countries: the father ships out goods from a manufacturing location while the sons sell in other parts of the world, creating hugely profitable companies which run around the clock. So, while Murli’s PhD is in English Literature, this book also tells all kinds of things he did not learn at Harvard Business School.

For more about Murli, his book and his community see this interview by Saaz Aggarwal on:

Read the story behind the cover of this book on:

Packaging a rainbow

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