Tara Sahgal, India Today September 1, 2003

Neem Dreams

Despite the neo-hippy vibe of its title Neem Dreams is not your average culture cuisine, the how I got the shits in Shilpi kind of novel about white people who find themselves leper-hugging in India before they return to their monotonous life-sentences in Manchester or Melbourne, immersed in mortgage and middle-managerhood. Woven around four characters and a neem tree, this is a novel about globalisation, corporate rapacity, environmental annihilation and political villainy. The novel’s four central characters Pandora, Meenakshi, Andy and Jade (Australian, Indian, British and Australian-American) come together as a result of capricious twists of fate: an article in a magazine, a chance encounter at a cafe and finally, a community project in a village centered on a factory producing neem products. Neem was the village dispensary, known to ancient civilizations whose refinement was undreamt of by a still barbarous, distant Europe slowly evolving towards its imperialist technologies. The neem project promised to give each of the four what they had been looking for : Meenakshi needed something worthwhile, something more than her marriage to sustain here: Pandora longed to be an instrument of justice and vengeance: Andy needed a miracle cure: and Jade wanted to source skin-care products for an exclusive New York store. It is a grassroots project, it is socially conscious, it is morally responsible, but, of course, something dark lurks beneath. The tree stands as an antithesis to all that is wrong with humanity. To top it all, a number of multi-national companies are now looking to patent it. Never just scratching the surface, the novel digs deep, both psychologically and socially, evoking the varied realities of all four characters. Machiavellian machinery of contemporary Indian politics and the brewing communal conflicts are in the background. A lot happens in this book. It is as much a tirade against MNCs and First World myopia as it is against Hindutva, sexism and Indian masculinity . There is outrage in every page, enough to ignite the passion of the droopiest of cynics, and a palpable sense of mourning for lost traditions and ancient wisdoms. It is fiercely philosophical, written in paragraphs of poetic prose, but really, the reason you keep reading is because the book is about life, journeys and that intoxicating affinity of spirit we sometimes find in total strangers. A book totally worth exploring for the wanderers in search of an authentic moment.

-Tara Sahgal, India Today September 1, 2003