Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Character Study: Sumitra Kumar

This is the sixth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

There was a time when Sumitra was rich.

Her father had owned several hotels in their Mississippi River town, but he bankrupted himself during the race riots, selling nearly everything he owned in order to distribute food and medicine, buying the goodwill of the town and saving his family. The strain led to an early death, and Sumitra's mother slumped into a deep depression at the loss of her husband and creature comforts.

Sumitra was left to run her family's last remaining property alone. It wasn't much-- just a shabby motel, pock-marked from the recent fighting, with an entire wing uninhabitable.

Having a man around the place might help, so she married. But her husband was a n'er-do-well who had little interest in helping around the motel or working for someone else. It was almost a relief when he got picked up by the recruiters and sent to fight in the resource wars. Maybe he'd be more useful there.

Sumitra ran the motel, raised her son Balin, and as her mother's health failed, tried to please her by donning her grandmother's saris, honoring the old Hindu gods, and learning the recipes of her grandmother and great-grandmother. Not that Sumitra believed in any of the old ways. She was as American as anyone.

She did like the curry, though. Too bad it was so expensive and hard to come by!

When Balin became a policeman, Sumitra's culinary life took a turn for the better. With his beat on the waterfront, Balin knew the comings and goings of all the boats, and was privy to the various protection rackets going on. It wasn't hard for him to extort a little cumin, curry or cardamom. And with Sumitra's hens thriving and her spinach and onions growing so well in the crumbling motel courtyard, a good tandoori or vegetable korma could be whipped up for dinner almost every night.

Yes, it was tedious running one of the cheapest motels in town. But at least with a policeman for a son, her place had protection from roving criminals and she could spin her creative dreams in the kitchen. And each passing traveler had a story. All of them coming from somewhere, on their way to someplace else...

Why should Sumitra travel in pursuit of her own dreams when she could sit right here by the curry pot and wait for others to bring their dreams to her?

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. Curry isn't on the list of prizes, but other snacks are!


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Curry's not on the list of prizes, eh? What about Oreos?

I just wanted to drop in and say that even though I'm not commenting on each post, I AM reading them and really digging them.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Well, if you buy the book and tell me you would like to be eligible for a curry prize, I'm sure I could accomodate you... ;-)

Clare2e said...

Bunnygirl- I read your comment at the Goat's Pail and was fascinated by your so-cute avatar. I also write SFF, too, though not as far forward as yours, mine's present-day ish.

Anyway, I'm impressed and humbled by how prolific you are. Please don't tell me you're doing 3 manuscripts a week though. I can't take the pressure.

I like the thought of gathering around Sumitra's fire for curry and hearing about all she's seen pass by. Tell me she makes Nan, too. Yum.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Clare2e, thanks for dropping by!

Sumitra can make naan, but chapatis are easier.

When Diana stops at Sumitra's motel on her way from New Mexico to Kentucky, she confuses the chapatis for tortillas and the kheer for arroz con leche, but it's all good! :-)

Alice Audrey said...

I like her. She's very much a product of her time and place, but she's got style.