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Grounded fantasy

GUESTS IN THIS COUNTRY: A DEVELOPMENT FANTASY Edited by Greta Rana Publisher: Book Faith India Price: Rs 450 (Nepal)

By Anita Anand
Published: Tuesday 28 February 1995

-- (Credit: Malay Karmakar)BECKY Sidebottom, a Yorkshire woman with "immortal longings" goes to a fantasy country, Lapalistan, where she encounters Desi Khunbarrah, the most sexually magnetic man she has ever met. Rana's Lapalistan is ruled by Colonel Phouma, the Chairman of the Great Revolutionary Council of 1780, whose members function by consensus only.

This is Becky's first job as a junior programme officer for an international aid organisation, the United World Institution for the Loaning of Technology and Resource Internationally (UWILTRI). Her boss is Sidney Snade, married to Waheeda, a local woman with "sticky fingers".

For Becky Sidebottom, UWILTRI is an attractive getaway from her live-in boyfriend Eddie -- whose feet smell -- her overbearing mother and an indulgent father. The girl wanted to be an interpreter at UWILTRI's head office. In her application, she had mentioned her desire to help the needy and the suffering, and received the offer to come to the "nerve centre" of the world's powerlessness. Initially, she was not too keen on travelling to a hardship post country, but she imagined it would improve her chances of getting a job at the headquarters, once she gained experience in this field.

When Becky arrives at Lapalistan, she finds that the British ambassador's wife went to school with her father, and that Desi Khunbarrah with her brother. Not surprisingly, Desi notices, at their first meeting at the airport, that Becky's eyes are of different colours. The attraction between Becky and Desi is subtly hinted at, but abruptly Rana does a Hindi movie and all of a sudden the couple are very much in love. The relationship is not developed, just arrived at. In the same vein, the complexities of the Great Revolutionary Council and UWILTRI are not revealed clearly to those unfamiliar with the procedures of undemocratic regimes or international bureaucracies.

Rana's heroine, Becky, comes across as a balanced and thoughtful person who manages herself and her time well in Lapalistan, despite the obstacles and contradictions. Rana's strength is in presenting the issues of money, technology, competence, sex and politics in a serious manner with humorous touches thrown in. The characters are credible and protrayed well. Through Becky, Rana brings to the fore all the nagging doubts of development: who defines it, manages it, controls it and benefits from it? What role do international organisations and foreign experts have in this?

But neither Rana nor Becky have answers to these questions. The book ends with Becky and her thoughts on a future in Lapalistan as Desi's spouse already carrying his child. She reconciles to the fact that she has much to do in this adopted country, to become more than just a guest -- an interpreter of sorts, though not necessarily of languages.

---Anita Anand is Director of the Women's Feature Service.

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