ONE AMAZING THING
-CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI
In an unnamed city on the west coast of the United States, an earthquake strikes. Nine people become trapped in the basement-level visa office of the Indian consulate. Seven of them are hoping to secure travel visas, while two are employees of the Indian government. These few people represent a variety of nationalities – including African-American, Caucasian, Chinese and Indian, along with a variety of beliefs, such as Islam and Hinduism. As a result, prejudice is a major theme in the opening scenes, with several of the characters judging each other based on outward appearances and personal bias.
Cameron, an African-American who formerly served in the Army, becomes the unofficial leader of the group. His survival training skills help them stay alive while they wait for help. At first his authority is questioned by Tariq, a young Muslim in the group. Until they calm down and begin to help each other, there are a number of minor skirmishes and instances of people looking out primarily for themselves.
To bring unity to the group and to keep them from harming each other, Uma suggests that they each take turns telling stories from their own lives. She is inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which she is reading for an English class when the earthquake first strikes. Although there is resistance to this idea at first, eventually everyone agrees to tell a story. They listen attentively during the storytelling. Between stories they share food, take bathroom breaks and assess their situation, which is rapidly deteriorating as the basement begins to flood and the smell of gas becomes stronger. Each person tells a story that reveals something about who he or she is, as well as the reason for needing a travel visa to India.
Jiang, who grew up in Calcutta’s Chinatown, was in love with an Indian man. When for political reasons it was dangerous to be Chinese in India, Jiang left India and settled in the United States with a man of Chinese descent. Pritchett, a Caucasian accountant, overcame a childhood of poverty and abandonment through a love and passion for numbers. He is bewildered by his wife’s recent behaviour and hopes a trip to India will be a new start for them . Malathi an office worker at the Indian consulate, has been sent abroad after she behaved badly at her job in a salon in India. Upset over a rich woman’s treatment of a servant girl, Malathi used a chemical on the rich woman’s scalp which caused all of her hair to fall out. She considers this her one act of bravery.
Tariq, a young Muslim man who was raised in America, has recently become critical of American culture and government and has become more engaged in his Muslim roots thanks to his girlfriend and a group of more radical friends .Lily, Jiang’s granddaughter, lived for a long time in the shadow of her older brother, who aspires to be a cancer researcher. She teaches herself how to play the flute and becomes very good, giving concerts and winning acclaim. One day she simply feels she can no longer play; it is the same day she learns that her older brother has been failing at the university .Mangalam tells the story of marrying into a wealthy family to raise his own family’s station. After becoming increasingly unhappy with his marriage, he begins an affair. His wife’s family exerts influence to threaten Mr. Mangalam and his mistress and, as a result, he has been sent to work at this post at the Indian consulate. Pritchett’s story is about a great emptiness she feels in her life, the result of not having children and not feeling a deep love for her husband. She attempted suicide to escape her life, but now wishes to lose herself in India and start again alone. Cameron is journeying to India to meet a girl he has sponsored at an orphanage. It is the end of a long journey to absolve himself from a lifetime of guilt over his high school girlfriend’s abortion and the many atrocities he witnessed or participated in during his career in the army Uma, who suggested the telling of the stories, tells her story last. She is traveling to India to visit her parents, who have relocated there. She has been holding on to secrets for her parents and wants to unburden herself when she arrives.