Book Review: Bingo by Rita Mae Brown
The idea of a book changing your life is as stupid an idea as a waxing lady that will be cheap, painless and very good at her work.
Incredibly silly notions, them both. The idea of Erich Segal’s story changing anyone’s life “Haaaai sachee, I will never be the same again,” was eyeball damaging. Bear with me here. Paul Coelho makes many take to the deserts of San Diego leaving their children behind while way too many claim Ayn Rand makes their insides quiver with inspiration. Sadly, none of these books do anything for me. I read Love Story 9 times but all I could make of it was one very witty smartassed young woman who’d managed to phassao one very rich yuppie. And then she died. Okay then, somebody, like ANYBODY explain?
Barf if you must, but then it happened. A book at Itwaar Bazaar was thrown smack in my face by dear Chance. After 10 minutes of haggling with the occasional “Chaarsoe rupae? Tobah karaain,” “Kumn kaar dain naaaaa please, paisae nahin hain merae paas” and the classic (always works ladies) “Aloo bhi laenae hain bhai- amma maar dalain gee” thrown in every few minutes, my total bill came to some 300 rupees. As a last minute bargain I told the thaelaewalla it was just too much money and that he should let me take one more book. I am not my dearly departed grandma’s flesh for nothing. The young man snorted very unbecomingly and said ‘jee behen lae lain.’ Very cheeky boy. I picked up the first book that looked pretty and was out of there in less than 2 seconds. A cute lil heart on the cover with white patches that definitely pointed to excessive ghissaee was ‘Bingo’. That night I thought to get it out of the way after which I would start the other 8 books I’d bought the same evening, all stacked under the bed and waiting for me like a mouthwatering Oreo shake after 2 weeks of dieting on sookha lettuce. Or the reason might very well be that it was a mufta. They have a special place in my heartie. Swigs from a liter bottle of diet coke and crunchy chilli chips that kept on falling on my Taz T-shirt accompanied me on my journey to the happy, sunshine filled world of she who is now my most favorite dyke in the world.
Allow me to say that ‘Bingo’ by Rita Mae Brown is a beautiful book. A book that may change your life- if not that, it will surely change the way you perceive your world. As I made my way through the lives of the people living inside the book, my own world changed from a mildly annoying place with irritating people doting it every few meters to a place where I could…well, have oodles and poodles of fun. And to add to that, I like myself now. A whole lot. I’ll try and explain. Once u read the book, you will no longer worry about your mouth being akin to a ‘manhole cover’- large and out of which steam often arises. Steam is a good thing. Especially offensive steam. If it makes you happy, it really is. If something is silly, funny, stupid or retarded please say so, Rita says. If you feel like being crazy, go right ahead. Why not, hain? “The only reward of conforming is that everyone likes you but yourself.” Beautiful. Just beautiful. I like myself like crazy all of a sudden. Specially recommended for those of you who are spending time in a place where you need to smile when aunties who will pop in tomorrow with a rishta ask you ‘how old might you be beti.’ Fret not girls, Aunty Rita is here. Tell them sweetly ‘Kya karna hae aunty aapnae meri umar sae hainhainHAAAAIN?’ with a deranged smile fixed on your face. It will crack you up crazy and if you are off perverse nature like myself, spread in your tummy a strange giddy feeling. I am the queen of the world, mad as I may be and lets see you tell me otherwise. Simple really, little stupid also, but the satisfaction is priceless. And to Mars with what others might say. Yes? I now understand that it’s okay to eat like 20 men. ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ Such tiny little heera’s are strewn all over the 370 pages. There is a lot to be learnt from this lesbo who stars in Bingo. If you are done groaning, please read on.
The story revolves around Nicole, our friendly lesbian, a free spirit if there was ever one. Living on her greatgrandma’s ancient farm with horses and dogs and a billion cats for company she brings new meaning to sensible, practical, supremely loving yet at the same time uncomfortably detached. Adopted as a tiny baby, she has newspaper in her adopted blood, gushing through her legs, arms and entrenched in her brain and gut. Nickie is editor at the town newspaper- a town which is a funny thing in itself. Torn smack in the center with the Mason Dixie line running through it, it has all the components of a mad hatter’s party. From Verna, the huge bottle blond whose salvation is navy blue and her battalion of off springs and who operates the town diner to Mr. Pierre the lovely drag queen with delicate lilac tints in his hair (Mr. Pierre is big on tints) who operates the town beauty saloon- everyone is quite mad- yet wonderfully human at the same time; a thing to portray as hard as walking over coals, may I as an aspiring writer inform you. Mr. Pierre and Nickie are the only two openly gay people in the town of Runnymede- the rest, whom they both often run into outside Runnymede are closet folks and commend their ‘bravery’ but leave them both quite alone to it.
The town is your typical Lahori or Bombay community where everyone confirms and breeds. Marriage is like death in Runnymede, everybody does it. Mr.Pierre though not portrayed in the bright lights, is a very important character- this harmless bearded lady has a very sensible and kind streak inside him- a side that doesn’t often get a chance to shine in the first part of the book where he alone after the death of a decades old companion busies himself at the saloon in putting cold water and curlers on the feuds of Nicks aunty and mom. He gives superb manicures and pedicures and insists persistently and emphatically that both doddering old ladies wear shorts in the summer- old age be damned. Much of the comic element is provided by this man and Louise. Nickels aunt Louise and momma Julie (Juts) are your average scheming, love hate relationship sharing sisters. Only problem is they’re pushing 80 and 90 very respectively. Louise drives like her feet were on fire- pushing on the escalator and brake with very sudden jerks as though doing so will make the fire go away while Juts, Nick’s mumsy decides somewhere in the book that love as she did her late husband, she needs a man. The nice, quiet, charming new comer in town comes in right on cue and after a royal battle with Louise over him she gets him to move in with her. The sins of the nearly dead are highly amusing and will have you guffawing, chuckling, grinning and giggling in a great portion of the book.
The characters are drawn with breathtaking ease, as are the events. I’ll leave you to read the absolute madness that takes over the weekly games of Bingo the town is entirely obsessed with. But more than the skills or events, it is Nickie who blows one’s mind. She personifies the incredible depths a woman is capable of- from her affair with her best friend Regina’s husband to her comfortable relationship with quiet Ed who lives in sin with her 90 year old half senile mother. Nothing though, is like the conversation where Regina confronts Nickie about her infidelity with her husband and his two babies in her very gay tummy. The beauty of that conversation surpasses all expectations of beauty. It is then that one feels the need to do something that will make everyone in the world read this book.
Excuse me if I rushed through the most important part of the review- the story line. Nothing I write can do justice to the beauty of the language used, the feelings it arouses and the twists it gorgeously takes. Nickie’s blunt acceptance of life and the shortcomings of all the humans around her, her intensely touching yet non-overwhelming relationship with her dead father, her silent pain at being reminded of being loved but not belonging, the joy that takes over the reader as the twins are born and Juts insisting they look like her- adoption be damned, Mr. Pierre (who has since married Nickie) going quite berserk giving out cigarettes on his way to being the centuries most doting dad to the acceptance with which everyone in Runnymede lives as we take leave- none of the thrills can be experienced or even reported in a mere book review. It’s all way too big. The book did strange things to me and those I lend it to. At certain points in the book, my heart bloody sang. It started beating hard and I got this horribly happy grin spreading on my face. Like fungus of some kind. Icky, goey and very there. Others reported goosebumping al over. There is no fokat ka suspense or highly emotional scenes here. Yet this book comes with a great many tears. All kinds of tears. Happy, sad, big and some whose origin you cant quite figure out.
Life’s too important to take yourself seriously Nickie often tells herself and the people and animals she works and lives with. That made sense to me on a more personal note. A few weeks ago somebody I considered a friend- no great or close friend but someone I hung around with for want of a better person or more interesting activity in a place where all my friends are often unable to make it, turned around and shoved the proverbial knife in my back. (erm…yea maybe it was this attitude that prompted her) She was very smart about it- had me in a corner and so shocked by the whole thing, I didn’t believe it was happening for a few days. When the time to react finally came, I reached the end of the book. What would have been a very hurt me or a nice big dharaka scene, didn’t occur. A strange sad feeling bothered me for a few days- why would somebody want to say bad things about me when I hadn’t done a damn thing to them? It was what may be called mild afsose- no great hurt I couldn’t move off from or anger that would cause strains took over. Life’s too important. Keyword ‘too’. So she screwed me over. I learnt. Why do people as a last resort call Nickie a ‘dry ol dyke’? Sometimes because of their own insecurities. Typical sentiment, annoying phrase: “insecurities” beaten to death but it holds true. Or then maybe because she is one. And maybe, just maybe I too am somewhat akin to an ‘arrogant bitch’. Keyword ‘maybe’. Always keep possibilities open. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe he is obnoxious. Maybe she is promiscuous. Maybe you are too. Maybe they almost killed you with a heart bleed. Maybe you need to forgive them.
The theme of this book is a thinking, breathing, laughing, forgiving heart which holds incredible synchronization with the brain. People can be awfully mean (I do believe ‘arrogant bitch’ takes the cake for all awfulness) There are people out there who may try to mess things up for the sole purpose of doing so. Sad folks. Yet, like that wonderful lesbian who brings hope, depth and humor (the kind that makes you laugh aloud in glee) to her people and believes strongly that “you’re here to give- any fool can take” like her, we too must keep giving of ourselves. Letting their shallowness and pettiness pass. Bring glory (whatever the hell that means to you) to every life you touch and have a ball while you’re at it. We forget that we are here only to make life easier for the other. Why does someone who previously castrated and mutilated people who messed with her, talk such ugly mush all of a sudden? I heard Nickie tell me somewhere in there not to let people stop me from trying to love everything and everyone I meet madly. With this crazy passion we possess at 7 years and loose soon after. Loving with no shartain she asks off the reader. Its okay if you cant. But try. Like crazy.