Genre: Multi-cultural comedy (this is chick lit)
Nisha Desai is a young woman living in Ahmedabad, India. She has a Masters in English and a father who worships the rupee. She must get a job--Papa gets her paycheck--or get married. Papa regularly supplies horrible, horoscope-approved suitors for her and her vinegary sister Vinita. Ma rubber-stamps them.
Since her family has no influence, and little money, getting a decent teaching job is highly unlikely. Getting a decent husband, given the choices, is impossible. Failure to achieve either will mean being tossed to Papa's fundamentalist political party to do volunteer work.
Then comes a fateful phone call. A long-lost aunt living in the US is coming to visit with her two daughters. This is influence with a capital $, and Nisha sees a bright future ahead if she can impress her aunt with her need for a Green-card-holding husband or, failing that, get her aunt to bankroll further education in the US.
While cleaning the basement to make room for the visitors, Nisha finds a photograph of a nurse and two babies. This lays the groundwork for a belief on Vinita's part that they were adopted. Nisha can't convince her otherwise.
A neighbor provides Nisha with a backup plan in the form of a rich and handsome relative from America. He will be arriving in Ahmedabad soon, and the neighbor has chosen Nisha to be one of the matrimonial prospects he will interview. Nisha's fantasies take wing.
The American relatives arrive. The aunt is a New Age space case who converses with the family's neem tree, and the daughters are, respectively, a teen with a bad attitude, and an idealistic college student. Worse, Ma doesn't like her American sister. Undaunted, Nisha sets out to impress the visitors.
There are problems. The cousins and India don't mix well. Problems begin with a lack of toilet paper and move on to a lack of water as the taps go dry. The latter so incenses the older cousin that she organizes a protest. This lands the four young women in jail. Nisha sees her reputation go down the drain, but at least she's in tight with the cousins.
Released on bribe, lesson unlearned, the cousins take up the cause of a neighbor who has been rejected by a girl's parents, and teach him courtship Hollywood rom-com style.
When the family attends the wedding of Papa's boss, they are horrified to see not only the groom arriving on a white horse, but also the neighbor. A melee ensues, the lavish wedding is demolished, and the neighbor elopes on horseback with the bride. Papa is fired. Nisha and Vinita would be sleeping with the dog if the family had one. Worse, Vinita has uncovered more evidence and is truly obsessed with the adoption theory.
Poverty is gathering on the horizon when the cousins play a prank on Papa, making him think a wandering cow will bring him good fortune. The prank morphs into a religious experience when Papa and a fellow party member spread the word about the cow's magical properties. Soon crowds are arriving to buy bits of enchanted dung and tiny bottles of cow urine. People are convinced the cow is a reincarnation of Kamadhenu, a divine cow of Hindu mythology.
The business expands along with the cow's growing fame, but when Papa rashly makes a prediction that the cow will bring back the water, monsoon failure or no, Nisha sees disaster looming.
Only by blackmailing the manager of the water facility does she ensure the cow will succeed. Water arrives on time, and the rupees flow in like a river. While none of the money comes to Nisha, she feels the family will finally have influence.
Vinita has sold her computer to pay for a DNA test kit to prove parentage or a lack of it, and enlists Nisha's aid in obtaining samples. Nisha wonders if she will inherit insanity too.
The American suitor arrives, but the monsoon has made the toilet door stick, and Nisha spends several frantic minutes locked in while the suitor and his mother wait downstairs. She finally emerges a disheveled mess, and the suitor opts out.
As consolation, the cousins take Nisha to a party, the first one she's ever attended. An instant wallflower, she's rescued by a nice young man she knows from college. He offers to take her home. But he has a wolfish interior, so Nisha chooses to walk. Hours later, she arrives home drenched. Ma is infuriated, and takes it out on the aunt. The aunt announces they will be leaving in the morning. The last of Nisha's dreams crashes.
Vinita gets the results of the DNA test. They are half orphans, for while Ma is their mother, Papa isn't their father. Confronted with the evidence, Ma confesses. Papa overhears, blows up, and leaves with the cow. Free at last, Ma makes plans to live with the real father of the sisters. Vinita accuses her of being a hypocrite and moves out. Nisha watches in disbelief as the family comes apart.
Ma takes her to meet her real father, who is much nicer than Papa. He surprises her by offering her a chance to teach English in China, at wages far higher than she would get in India. Suddenly Nisha finds the future bright, if a little scary.
You had me enthralled right up to Papa not being papa. Then it was “wtf”?? I might believe one kid was a love child, but two? And this guy pops in out of left field, a rom-com version of aliens in chapter 14. Only if he is present throughout the book, even if he’s only a minor character, would this work.
I’m a total sucker for these kind of screwball comedy novels, and even more, for novels about India. If you had five good pages to lure me, I’d read this.