Click here to read reviewer Shampa Chaterjee's take on Salaam, Paris.
Kavita Daswani manages to avoid the obvious clichés of the chick-lit genre in her multi-cultural take on the coming-of-age of a young Indian beauty. Usually the scenario involves girl seeking true love and career, running afoul of the world, overcoming the obstacles and living happily ever after.
True, the protagonist, Tanaya Shaw, does eschew an arranged marriage and break from her traditional Indian heritage to go out into the world via Paris and New York, much to the horror of her patriarchal grandfather and emotionless mother. But the careful crafting of this young woman’s character and her Muslim background add a more interesting dimension to the Cinderella myth.
Salaam, Paris addresses the conflicted relationships of a modern yet moral female who has reverence for the past and the values of her childhood, but yearns for more than her restricted allotment of happiness. Since her teens, Tanaya has been infected with Western romanticism, an insidious virus, a yearning for personal fulfillment that entails a rejection of long-standing and revered cultural expectations.
Tanaya is a natural for the rarified stage of high fashion: tall and unusually striking, a welcome contrast to the usual lanky blonde Europeans and their exotic counterparts, the gorgeous African-American beauties, who stalk the runways. Without encountering the expected dog-eat-dog realities of the newcomer’s entrée into haute couture, Tanaya is easily assimilated into the world of the supermodel.
In a changed political climate, it is her commitment to the tenets of religion that sets this lady apart: “Being born Muslim was probably the best thing that happened to you.” Other models exist on a diet of coffee, cigarettes and cocaine while Tanaya remains faithful to her beliefs, refusing to fall into the trap of me-ness that accompanies celebrity. Indeed, she accomplishes far more than her early expectations, but at what cost?
Eventually, the very values she has turned away from draw her back home - the love of family and the authenticity of her faith. The rootless existence of wealth and notoriety have proven unsatisfactory and unsustainable, the clamoring press, entourage of assistants and the public’s insatiable thirst for gossip never conducive to long-term happiness.
This Sabrina-like, lovely young woman is thrust for a time into mainstream consciousness but remains haunted by her need to belong, to feel at home with herself and her life choices. Although this Muslim daughter of India embraces the world, she never sells her soul; exploitation and fame fail to seduce Tanaya, her integrity intact. And yes, she does live happily ever after.