Thrity Umrigar’s Playlist for Her Novel “Honor”

  • by

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Thrity Umrigar’s Honor is a complex and insightful novel.

Booklist wrote of the book:

“Umrigar excels in her juxtaposition of the contrasts between the tech hub image of contemporary India and the deep religious divisions that continue to wrack rural regions . . . This is a thought-provoking portrait of an India that ‘felt inexpressibly large—as well as small and provincial enough to choke.'”

In her own words, here is Thrity Umrigar’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel Honor:

India is a country divided by class, caste and religious differences. Each state has a different language and every region has a distinctive cuisine. The Indian Constitution recognizes twenty-two official languages and there are numerous dialects spoken.

But the one thing that unites vast swaths of the country is its love for Bollywood music. Certain classic Bollywood songs are universally beloved. Indeed, music acts as a great unifier in a country that sometimes appears to be hopelessly divided. Those living in skyscrapers hum the same tunes that someone living in a slum does.

I used this phenomenon by choosing songs for the novel that act as a kind of musical shorthand and will evoke a common sense of nostalgia and memory. Here is a playlist featuring three songs mentioned in the book, and others that I can imagine other characters listening to.

Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan from CID (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The quintessential ode to the polyglot, cosmopolitan megacity of Bombay, this old Bollywood song is the city’s unofficial anthem. Life in hard in the big city, it says, and you have to hustle, but this is Bombay, my love. Of course, Mohan, who loves the city and cannot imagine living elsewhere, would adopt this song as his own personal mantra.

Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana

Life is a beautiful journey, this up-tempo Hindi film song tells us, and who knows what will happen tomorrow? All the more reason to live with gusto. This is the song Mohan and Smita play on repeat as they embark on their own wild and unpredictable journey into an unknown future.

Tum Pakar Lo

Mohan plays this melancholy, tender love song for Smita as they get ready to part. All the wistfulness, all the yearning and longing that he feels for her is embodied in this song, not only in its lyrics—Call out to me, I am waiting for you—but also in its haunting melody.

Tujhe Dekha

To Jaana Sanam Meena’s younger sister, Radha, loves Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim actor married to a Hindu woman and their real life romance allows her to support Meena’s affair with Abdul. She would undoubtedly know this jaunty megahit sung by Khan and his female lead Kajol.

It’s The End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M

Smita mentions that her brother, Rohit, was a big R.E.M. fan when they were teenagers in India. On the eve of their departure from India, I can imagine Rohit playing this bitter song over and over again, its cynicism striking a responsive chord in his newly disillusioned heart. It’s the end of the world as he knows it. But he tells himself that he feels fine.

Across the Universe by The Beatles

This melodic, dreamy tune is one of my favorite Beatles songs and I listened to it a lot when I wrote Honor. With its chorus of the Sanskrit phrase, “Jai Guru Deva, Om,” followed by the emphatic, “Nothing’s gonna change my world,” this song harmoniously stitches East to West. For this reason, I imagine that Smita loves this song, too. And of course, Smita’s world has been changed numerous times by forces out of her control, so the words have a bittersweet, ironic reverberation for her.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of eight novels, including The Space Between Us, which was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, as well as a memoir and three picture books. Her books have been translated into several languages and published in more than fifteen countries. She is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and a Seth Rosenberg Award and is Distinguished Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University. A recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, she has contributed to the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Huffington Post.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.