Review: Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon

Karma Gone Bad

Jenny Feldon's Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned to Love Mangos, Bollywood and Water Buffalo is published by Source Books and will hit the stores on November-5, 2013.

Jenny was living in Manhattan when one fine day her husband, Jay, who worked for one of the Big Four consulting firms, came home and announced that they would be moving to India for 2 years. And Jenny's life took a turn; a turn very sharp indeed. Jenny surely was leading a life of comfort amongst the Diane von Furstenberg and Cynthia Steffe dresses and Jimmy Choo sling backs. Her sudden involuntary teleportation to a Third World country wasn't something she had thought of as a part and parcel of a doting wife of an Armani-wearing husband. For her, India was still the land of the elephants and mass yoga camps.

She was in for a rude shock.

Her description of landing in India is funny and reminded me of Russell Peters' narration of coming in India. Life in Hyderabad was drastically different from the images and sights she had conjured up and it became a struggle for existence given her poor intestinal capabilities owing to the spicy Indian food in local eateries. And not just spicy, but bacteria-infested, post-expiry dated and unhygienic. For the next couple of months she struggled to find meaning and purpose of life. India wasn't turning out to be a trip full of pleasant surprises which would launch her blog to a new found fame. Tucker, her white Maltese, was surprisingly coping better than her. She failed to adapt to the changed circumstances and this finally started rubbing off her marriage. To recuperate she headed back to the U.S.

Tucker with the Red Eye effect (courtesy: Nicole Villeneuve from Source Books and Jenny)

With her marriage crumbling and her dreams fading away like the morning mist, the only option she had was to fight back her own resistance to change, accept and enjoy her new life. And once she did that, she realized the India of her dreams. She discovered the spices, the places, the people and, more than anything else, life of people who weren't very different from her. Her visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra with her parents reflected the beautiful ways in which she accepted India how it was rather than succumbing to the one existing in her mind. Her newfound energy in learning Hindi and Yoga instilled a purpose in her and over time result in her and Jay discovering love again.

Jenny & Jay at the Taj Mahal (courtesy: Nicole Villeneuve from Source Books and Jenny)

I myself have lived in Hyderabad for around 18 months and could relate to various places Jenny has mentioned throughout the book: Ginger Court, HITEC, Husain Sagar, Charminar, Pizza Corner and Q-Mart. And I always wanted to see India through the eyes of an expat. Her extra sensitive senses, which went on an overdrive at the sights, smells and sounds of the city, made her detest life in a Third World country. Wait, Third World! I saw India as that glowing example of a weak, subdued and oppressed nation rising out of the downtrodden and coming to dominate the global scene with high-tech offices, internet connectivity, exuberant consumerism and a thriving economy. But beneath this media-created glimmer, India definitely is still a Third World country and could be categorised as even worse. The pathetic state of the roads, the total lack of public-hygiene, lack of the sense of ownership of public utilities and their misuse, corruption, the garbage-lined streets, mosquito-laden cesspools and millions of people in every square kilometer of land do not make it any pleasurable to live in there unless you have no other options at all. The way Jenny looked at things brought in a new perspective of examining accepted behaviour. At the same time, however, her surmises of a life of fun and frolic are shattered as she cannot work for the lack of a work-permit in India and becomes only an accompanying-spouse. It made me think and reflect on the accepted and stereotyped roles of women all across the globe that have now, actually since millenniums, been so ingrained in our psyche that a woman who is independent and values her career more than her home and marriage is frowned upon.

As an outsider to the country, Jenny did get few things off the mark though. Pets aren't as common to the people in India as in the U.S., but many do have them. And if not pets, they do feed stray animals. I wish there were more 'juicy mango' stories to relish amongst her cooking experiments.

Overall, an enjoyable and touching book about human nature: of resistance and acceptance. The stories of Tucker make you laugh; the ones of Jenny by the toilet unable to digest Indian food make you empathize; the ones when the Feldons are cheated make you feel bad about the country; and the tales about her learning to cook food and visiting orphanages make you respect her.

Author Interview

The publicists at Source Books were kind enough to get my questions answered by Jenny about her experiences in India.

1. Before visiting Hyderabad, what was your impression of India like?
Everything I knew about India was from the movies...and even that was precious little. Mostly, I'd seen Monsoon Wedding several times and had some vague thoughts about elephants, rain storms and lots of singing :)

2. Adjusting to the sights and smells would have been difficult indeed. But why do you think it too so long for you to adjust to them?

I was my own worst enemy when it came to adjusting to life in India. All I could focus on was all the things India wasn't...instead of celebrating it for all the things is WAS. My biggest regret is that I didn't change my attitude and open to my eyes to the beauty around me sooner. I'm grateful, though, for the path of self-discovery that led me to understand the terrible mistakes I was making and how judgmental I'd been. My life has been forever changed thanks to the lessons India taught me.

3. Of all the places you visited in 'Bad, which one was your favorite and why?

It's so hard to many places there are dear to my heart! I'd have to say the spice and bangle markets that surrounded Charminar, in the "old" part of the city. I could get lost among the alleys there forever. The lush green serenity of KBR park was also a favorite--Tucker and I enjoyed many long walks there.

4. In touch with any of the friends and acquaintances you made back there?

Yes, almost all of them! We're trying to get our Hyderabadi friends to come visit us in LA with their families. And Anjali is back in the US, completing her graduate studies in New York, so I get to see her every once in a while.

5. Which latest Bollywood movies have you watched?

I had to watch Dhoom 3, of course (though Dhoom 2 will always be my favorite for sentimental reasons...) I also enjoyed Chennai Express with Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. The love stories were always my favorite :) Thank goodness for Netflix since Bollywood movies are hard to come by here!

6. And what if Karma were to send you back to India?

I'd be grateful. So far I've not had the opportunity to go back (though Jay spent almost a year there after my daughter was born while I was back in the US.) I can't wait for the opportunity to take my children to India and show them all the things we love so much about it, and also to show them where so much of our family's journey began. They're pretty little now, so we might need to wait a few years so they can fully appreciate it. But I'd jump at the chance to return to India myself...there is so much there I miss, and it's been too long!


Jenny Feldon grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. She has completed her bachelor's degree in English literature at Boston University and earned her MFA in creative writing from the New School University. She writes on her blog Karma (continued...) about being a writer, a mother, a yoga teacher and a loving wife.

Jenny doles out karmic wisdom on twitter too:

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