Meet Me in Mumbai
Meet Me in Mumbai
“Hey, honey—what’s wrong?” Mama asks.
“Just can’t sleep.”
“Come sit here with us.” Mom holds out her arm for me to snuggle into.
I watch with them until the show’s over, then stand up to stretch.
“Sweetie, are you sure you’re okay?” Mom asks.
I shrug and slump back onto the couch.
“Okay, c’mon, out with it,” Mama says in her no-nonsense voice.
“It’s nothing, really.” I’m hesitant to share my feelings about tonight. I’m not sure they’ll understand where I’m coming from.
“It’s obviously something,” Mom says. I know it’s pointless to try to fool them. They can read my face too well.
“It’s just… Tonight when I was at the thing with all those Indian people, it felt different.”
What felt different?” Mama says.
“Just how I fit in with them, you know?” I look at my mothers, willing them to get what I’m saying.
But I don’t think they do. Yet.
“I think it’s normal, Mira,” Mom finally says.
“I mean, you’ve never really been around a lot of Indian people, even though we live here in Houston,” she says.
“It’s kind of our fault,” Mom says. “It’s not like we don’t have Indian friends, but really no one that we’re particularly close to.”
“How come?” I say. “I mean, Mama, you know Mrs. Rasheed from work, and, Mom, you know Pooja’s dad, right?”
Moms look at each other. I’m starting to wish I hadn’t stirred this particular pot, but I can’t stop now.
“I don’t know,” Mom says. “I guess we just never needed to because we already had our group of friends that we’re close with.”
Mama takes my face in her hands.
“Honey, if you feel like you need to be around more Indian people and get to know them, then of course we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen,” she says.
“Yes, and we can go out to Indian places more and maybe attend some cultural events, you know,” Mom adds.
I nod, not knowing what else to say. I don’t know how to explain to them that cultural events and food and dinner parties are all great, but they’re not going to be enough to fill this hole I’ve suddenly discovered in myself.
What if I never feel at home in my own life again? (From “part one AYESHA”)
Hours later, I’m tossing and turning in bed, once again unable to go to sleep. Finally, I lean over the edge of my bed and pull out the box from underneath. I settle onto the floor and take out the items one by one. Once the box is completely empty, I turn it over and shake it. An envelope falls out. It’s sealed like the others and must have been lodged into the corners of the cardboard. I take out the letter, smooth it out, and begin to read.
My sweetest baby girl,
As I write this, you are still safe inside me and I can only see you with my heart. I picture you as strong and beautiful, bringing joy to everyone around you. By the time you are old enough to read this, I’ll be far away, but you’ll never be too far from me. I only hope that your heart will still be open for me and that you will find it in yourself to forgive me and to understand why I had to do what I did. It will be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life, and I draw strength from the knowledge that it is what’s best for you. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have the courage to stay with you and face the consequences of my actions. But know that you will always be the most precious thing in my life, no matter how much time has passed or how far we are from each other. I’ll carry you in my heart until the day I die. But there is something I have to ask you to do, even though I know I have no right. On your 18th birthday, I will wait for you at the Flora Fountain in Mumbai at 4 p.m. If after reading this, you decide you want nothing to do with me, I’ll understand completely. But if there’s any part of you that feels that there’s even the slightest chance that we can reconnect, please come to me. I’ll be waiting.
With all the love in my heart,
Your mother, Ayesha
I put the letter down, my heart racing and sweat making my palms tingle. This has to be a sign. All this time I’ve been worried that my birth mother didn’t want me in her life, and now I find this letter, this invitation from her. But right away doubts cloud the new sense of hope that’s barely had a chance to take root.
She wrote this letter eighteen years ago.
Who knows what’s happened in her life since then? (From “part two MIRA)
Ayesha is living across the world and away from both her family and culture when she meets Suresh whom she believes is her soulmate. They fall hard and fast for each other. The lovestruck teens bond over their shared cultural background, both being from India and having moved to the United States to attend high school. Things are going great for the young couple, great until Suresh suddenly and unexpectedly has to return to India to attend to family matters. The timing couldn’t possibly be worse as Ayesha discovers that she is pregnant with their child. Ayesha quickly realizes that she is navigating life’s challenges all by herself, knowing she is unable to tell her family of her circumstances and face their disapproval. Unable to reach Suresh by phone in India leaves her having to make a life-changing decision all on her own.
Eighteen years later, Mira is developing an interest in learning about her Indian culture and her biological family. She stumbles across a box filled with letters addressed to her from her birth mother. Mira loves her adopted moms, but she can’t help but wonder about her birth mother and the circumstances that led to her putting Mira up for adoption. In one of the letters, Mira’s birth mother writes that she will be waiting to meet Mira in Mumbai on her eighteenth birthday, if Mira can find it in her heart to forgive her and hear her out. Mira’s moms are naturally skeptical, but Mira feels like she would regret it forever if she doesn’t go. But the question is, is she emotionally ready to hear the truth?
Meet Me In Mumbai follows the lives of two teens, Ayesha and Mira, 18 years apart. Part One of the book reveals Ayesha’s story, beginning in September 2000 in Bloomington, Illinois. Part Two follows Mira’s journey, starting in December 2018 in Houston, Texas. Both girls are discovering their personal identities, beginning to make big decisions, and learning to live with the consequences of those decisions.
Author Sabina Khan writes about Muslim teens living in intersectional spaces, both geographically and in terms of identities. She has the lived experience to inspire her storytelling—she was born in Germany, lived in Bangladesh as a teenager, and also lived in Macao, Illinois, and Texas before calling Canada home. Khan lives in British Columbia with her husband, children, and their dog. Her The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali received much critical acclaim, including being shortlisted for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, named a finalist for the OLA White Pine Award, commended as one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and awarded an Honourable Mention for the OLA Best Bets list. Additionally, her previous novel, Zara Hossain Is Here, was named a Starred Selection and commended as one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens by the Canadian Children's Book Centre in 2021. When she’s not writing, Khan works as an educational consultant, helping young people with both academic and personal challenges.
Khan started writing because she could not find books with characters that looked like or represented her daughters or her students. She has made it her passion to write contemporary fiction that speaks to young people who live in intersectional spaces. meets Khan’s goal in several respects. Ayesha’s character is a young woman from a conservative Muslim family in India, living in a primarily white Christian environment in Illinois, who falls in love with a Hindu boy, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. Mira is a young woman of Indian ethnicity living in Texas with two white moms and little to no connection with her Indian heritage or her biological parents.
Khan has written both Ayesha and Mira to be strong, independent female characters. The author’s own life experiences have allowed her to bring light to some of the struggles that immigrants face, particularly Muslim women raised in ultra-conservative families. In the text, Khan demonstrates barrier breaking with Ayesha’s character, a Muslim girl, falling in love with Suresh, who is Hindu, which was likely to have been met with disapproval from both of their families, particularly in the year 2000 when it occurs in the book. This religious difference added another layer to the reasoning behind why Ayesha felt she could not tell her parents about her pregnancy. Ayesha demonstrates strength beyond her years through both pursuing the relationship, despite what she knows her parents would think, and by forging ahead with the pregnancy all her own, sacrificing her own future plans to do what she felt was best for her baby.
Khan is passionate about bringing light to LGBTQIA+ themes, and one of the ways that she does so is by infusing these topics into her novels. In the text, Ayesha chooses to have her baby adopted by a lesbian couple, a choice which the text suggests may have been controversial and complicated in 2000. Through these, among other choices, Khan has demonstrated that Ayesha is a strong, independent female character, willing to overcome barriers and misconceptions, something that is not often shown in books, particularly regarding Muslim women. These stylistic choices are likely to help break down misconceptions and stereotypes that readers may have about women in Muslim cultures.
As for Mira, her character showed great bravery and independence with her choice to pursue meeting her birth mother after reading the letter her mother had written her 18 years earlier. Her choices to not only travel across the world on her own as a teenager, to risk the emotional uncertainty of whether her mother would actually be at the fountain as indicated in her letter, and to face what she may have to say, all showed great courage. Despite the fact that it might upset or offend her moms, Mira also voiced her feelings and opinions to them regarding her not feeling like she fit in in Texas, a result of her living in a primarily white environment without knowledge of her culture. Despite growing up in vastly different circumstances and time frames, Mira and her biological mother, Ayesha, have more in common than one might realize. Regardless of one’s cultural background or life experiences, readers are likely to connect with the universally relatable theme of finding a sense of belonging.
Meet Me in Mumbai is a heart-wrenching novel that is likely to inspire the full range of emotions in readers. The author has penned a diverse coming-of-age story of two teens, two decades apart, walking parallel, but unique paths and straddling different cultures and identities. Readers are likely to learn alongside Ayesha and Mira that family connections can be fluid and grow and change with time. Author Sabina Khan’s complex work is simultaneously timely and timeless, weaving together strands of heartbreak, healing, culture, identity, family, love, and hope.
Chasity Findlay is a graduate of the Master of Education program in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba and an avid reader of young adult and children’s literature.