BENGALURU: The Amazing Racist opens on a hot tropical day in Colombo, Sri Lanka. There is a tropical storm brewing in the distant horizon as well as one far more deadly, simmering in the office of Thilak Rupasinghe, top litigation lawyer and former president’s counsel, a protective and dominating father and a man with a diminutive stature but a persona so towering that he could literally frighten away cancer. In the momentary calm before the storm, Eddie Trusted, a rather bewildered English schoolteacher, waits in the verandah burping curry and watching the minutes vanish in the buildup to one of the most significant moments in his life — as he is about to ask this much feared patriarch for the hand of Menaka Rupasinghe, his daughter — a mere seven weeks after he has landed in the country.
Plagued by the effects of spice on his digestive tract, the weather on his constitution and the chaotic traffic on his stress-prone disposition, Eddie is an outsider in more ways than one. And yet, unable to resist the charms of the veritable Sri Lankan goddess Menaka, he finds himself falling so deeply for her that he is ready to marry her and make this little politically fraught island country his own. But first of all, he has to pass the many tests laid out for him by his future father-in-law with a fairly anti-colonialist bent of mind and a distaste for the white man and his imaginary 21st-century burdens.
Chhimi Tenduf-La’s The Amazing Racist (Hachette India) is a rollercoaster ride through the life and times of two men, divided by the colour of their skin, age, cultural traditions and opinions, and brought together by their unusual circumstances, a whole lot of whiskey and the girls in their lives. Their interactions are less meetings and more like mini battles fraught with manic car rides, liver-melting arracks, sparks and tension, racist jokes and the ghost of deportation lurking around the corner. Eddie Trusted and Thilak Rupasinghe are polarised ends of a cultural spectrum forced together by the headstrong and free-spirited Menaka.
The author’s skill lies in his telling of this simple and straightforward tale with generous shots of humour, wit and sensitivity. From laugh-out-loud moments to politically incorrect jokes, from the black humour of human foibles to a witty look at the innards of the modern family mechanism, from the curious frailty of traditional bonds to the poignancy of unlikely and resilient bonds, the book chews its way through human relationships in all its myriad hues.
Chhimi Tenduf-La, who has mined some of his personal experiences in order to bring this world to life, is a fresh and promising new voice on the literary landscape. With a British mother, a Tibetan father and a Sri Lankan wife, the author certainly knows a thing or two about cultural cross-connections. Also, having spent enough time in Colombo, he had the unique vantage point to write this story with its motley cast of characters dealing with this strangely functional and dysfunctional city.
Set against the backdrop of an ancient-modern country ravaged by war and yet somehow getting on with all the motions of ordinary life, The Amazing Racist teeters away from deeper political issues presenting a light-hearted fictional universe with just the occasional real-life reference slipping through. Unlike hardened semi-fictional narratives of war and terror, this book soars free of the political baggage of its nation and tells a funny, accessible and charming story about a family and its oddball denizens. And the best part is that it doesn’t take itself terribly seriously as it sets out to expound exactly why every character finds himself or herself a place they can call home in Sri Lanka or the “best country in the world”.