Young man? Mr. Singh must be at least forty. ‘I’ve been honored to wear this turban for many years,’ he says, holding his head high. ‘Throughout history people have fought and died for the right to wear it. I will not take it off now.’
The woman purses her lips. ‘Well, you’re very brave.’ She turns ahead again, and the line begins to move, finally. I glance sidelong at Dad. He looks Indian, but he whistles ‘American Pie’ in the shower and reads the Seattle newspaper in the morning. My dad is not what anyone calls him. My dad is just my dad. Is it brave to be what you are, I wonder? Brave to just be yourself?” (pg 63)
I don’t know where I found Looking for Bapu the first time. The cover is absolutely beautiful, but I knew nothing about the story (in fact, I’ll admit, I wasn’t even sure what a Bapu was). I joined the South Asian Author Challenge knowing that I wanted to read more books written by and about South Asian people, so somewhere in my research for books I found this delightful MG novel about Anu, an 8-year-old boy whose grandfather (bapu) has a massive stroke a few weeks after September 11. Looking for Bapu is a masterful combination of grief and humor that transcends ages to be, not only a delightful novel, but also a resource for children as well as adults.
Anu, with the help of his friends Unger, Izzy and Andy does everything he can think of to bring Bapu back. Anu prays to the gods, tries to become a holy man and visits a fortune teller, but of course, nothing really works. Anyone who has lost someone suddenly can understand Anu; reading this book brought me right back to when I lost my own grandmother and all the strange things I did right after. This novel does wonders to express the universality of grief and loss, without ever losing sight of Anu’s unique experience.
“Ma turns up our driveway, the gravel crackling beneath the tires. She presses theremote to open the garage door and parks inside, in the cold dimness.
‘You don’t have to move closer to the gods, sweetie. You can just be a boy. Be Anu, be yourself. That’s who Bapu wanted you to be. He loved you, Anu.’
‘I am being myself. My new self.’
‘Why did you need a new self?’
I play with the ashtray, opening and closing it. ‘I don’t know. I want to be holy like the boy-Baba.’
‘Your old self was just fine. You don’t need to be a boy-Baba. It’s very important for you to be just a boy.’
She doesn’t understand. When I was just a boy, being myself, I couldn’t run home fast enough through the woods to save Bapu. Holy men can do anything. They can fly, heal the sick, bring back the dead (123).
This novel subtly handles many aspects of being a young child, of feeling powerless and curious and silly. Anu deals with racism, being called Osama Bin Laden by one of his classmates, but finds that most people are just as confused and scared as he is. Andy, one of Anu’s classmates, has cancer and there is a really wonderful scene between the two boys. Izzy and Unger are perfect friends, bringing quirkiness and warmth to the story.
Ultimately, grief is universal, and that is the point of Looking for Bapu. There are many types of grief here: from the grief of adults (Anu’s parents), childhood grief, living with a life-threatening illness, but also the collective grief we felt as a country after 9/11. But still, within all that sadness, there still has to be laughter, happiness and joy.
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR