Book Review: Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale

Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance

“She had tried to replace him with others, but they had only doodled, left mere doggerel on the warped pages of her heart.”

Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale is a playlist that celebrates the songs and rhythm of the city; not just of Mumbai, but of Bombay. Reading this book is like having a 3AM conversation with the streets of the city – conversations that are raw, surreal, uncaged and free of the consciential laws of right and wrong. Milk Teeth has the audacity of revealing the secrets of the city by celebrating the honest eccentricity of its life and the diverse realities that it has given its loyal inhabitants in the most fun and comical way.

“The seesaw of their friendship had seed-and-sawed plenty, never getting a shot at the equilibrium that adulthood sometimes brings to childhood friendships.”

Ira Kamat is a journalist and a beat reporter unveiling the soul of the city. She believes that in discovering the heart of the city, she might as well discover the essence of her own heart. Kartik Kini has a corporate job and works with an MNC. He believes that in the rustic identity of the city, he might one day find his own.

This is not a love story, this is a story of two lovers whose hearts beat for a city they call home; a home of the broken-hearted, a home of the outcasted, a home of the rebellious lovers, a home of the prodigals, a home of the piteous orthodox, a home of the new-age liberals, a home of the self-fashioned warriors, a home of the zealous dreamers, a home that belongs to all (but whose people only warmly welcome a few.)

“There was a clarity, a certainty of purpose behind everything she said and did; it could only come from knowing your place in the world.”

One of the best parts of this novel, is its ending- it is not a normal cliffhanger, but it gives the reader the liberty to construct the fate of the novel by themselves, just the way how they construct the fate of their lives around this city. It makes you fall in love with Mumbai over and over again. And for those who remember it as Bombay, it makes you reminisce the city that taught you how to love- with its lit up Queen’s Necklace and its intolerant bustling locals, with its familiar faces at the Iranian Cafes and its memories embracing the Worli Sea Face

I must say, at the end of this spirited novel, I found myself even closer to my city.

A handful of my favourite quotes:

  1. This incident was going to become a fold in the dull pages of their days; no matter how one flipped through the volume, one would land on this dog-eared episode.
  2. A divergence of interests and concerns was inevitable, it was believed, and when that happened, what else but romance could hold them together?
  3. You could put all the French or Italian you wanted in their names, but you couldn’t take Mumbai out of the buildings: the clothes drying outside the windows would remain, and so would the mud streaks from flowerpots on windowsills.
  4. Shobha Kamat was a petite woman who appeared apologetic about even the little space she occupied.
  5. He was the perfect match. On paper, that is.
  6. It was this lightness of pocket that gave her more leads than any lightness of conscience.
  7. There was plenty of anger on offer in Mumbai and it was easy to look away. But every once in a while, someone with imagination crafted their fury like origami into something delightful.
  8. New money shouts, old money whispers.
  9. Try as hard as you may, the first coat of paint shows.
  10. Just because you know something’s going to happen doesn’t mean you look forward to it.
  11. The third cup of coffee was a special weapon in her arsenal, like the brahmastra from the epics, to be welded occasionally and against the most insidious of enemies, one’s own demons.
  12. The details of his face remained hazy but the idea of him had taken root.
  13. If he touched her then, it would flood her being with all the colour there was and the world would turn black-and-white and fade into nothingness.
  14. They were curled up like two commas placed together, a typo in the story of their universe.
  15. Bombay has seen centuries of plurality and only a few years of bigotry.
  16. The communal violence that started after the Babri Masjid fell came to an end after the blasts, but the spell of peace that followed felt like hate was only shedding its milk teeth.
  17. History had become a wholesale shop for excuses-thats why you need a statute of limitations.
  18. Beauty is nothing but a promise of happiness.
  19. But how much; how much of the city can one rightly claim, in exchange for sweat, for blood, for life itself?
  20. Passion was temporary, she repeated to herself, like ink over the skin, like the memory of a dream.
  21. Doesn’t looking at the sky make you think that we are all equal in the eyes of the universe?
  22. To love was to protect, even from yourself, and yet, she had crushed him.
  23. You needed two things to succeed in this city, Kartik had heard, dress and address.
  24. Her expressions changed rapidly as if she were browsing through a catalogue to find a look she liked.
  25. Like archaeologists, we are delicately brushing off dust in order to excavate what remains of our friendship.