Cover image for Gifted : a novel
Title:
Gifted : a novel
ISBN:
9781400066483
Edition:
1st U.S. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, c2007.
Physical Description:
273 p. ; 22 cm.
Geographic Term:
Summary:
Fourteen-year-old India-born math prodigy Rumi Vashey becomes the object of her parents' campaign to make her one of the youngest students ever to attend Oxford University, until she rebels against her parents' expectations to seek out friendship and romance--Publisher.
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Summary

Summary

Rumi Vasi is 10 years, 2 months, 13 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds old. She's figured that the likelihood of her walking home from school with the boy she likes, John Kemble, is 0.2142, a probability severely reduced by the lacy dress and thick woolen tights her father, and Indian émigré, forces her to wear. Rumi is a gifted child, and her father, Mahesh, believes that strict discipline is the key to nurturing her genius if the family has any hope of making its mark on its adoptive country.

Four years later, a teenage Rumi is at the center of an intense campaign by her parents to make her the youngest student ever to attend Oxford University, an effort that requires an unrelenting routine of study. Yet Rumi is growing up like any other normal teen: her mind often drifts to potent distractions . . . from music to love.

Rumi's parents want nothing other than to give Rumi an exceptional life. As her father outlines ever more regimented study schedules, her mother longs for India and forcefully reminds Rumi of her roots. In the end, the intense expectations of a family with everything to prove will be a combustible ingredient as an intelligent but naive girl is thrust into the adult world before she has time to grow up.

In her stunningly eloquent debut novel, Nikita Lalwani pits a parent's dream against a child's. Deftly pondering the complexities and consequences that accompany the best intentions, Gifted explores just how far one person will push another, and how much can be endured, in the name of love.

Advance praise for Gifted
"A triumph . . . fluid, original, clever, glitteringly vivid, funny . . . All the conventional pieties and forms of Indian immigrant identity and trauma are so wittily preempted, and yet there's a sure grasp, at the serious core of the novel, of the deep reverberations of politics and history. I couldn't bear it when it ended."
--Tessa Hadley, author of The Master Bedroom

"This is an outstanding piece of writing--rich, vivid, fluent, and well paced--with a wonderful cast of well-developed, engaging characters and a constantly surprising story line."
--Gerard Woodward, author of A Curious Earth


Reviews 7

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this penetrating coming-of-age debut from London-based Lalwani, 14-year-old Rumika Vasi struggles to fulfill her mathematical gifts and her family's demands on them, while also finding friendship and romance. Rumi, labeled "gifted" in kindergarten, becomes subject to the grim home teaching of her father, Mahesh, a professor of mathematics at the University of Swansea in Wales. The goal: to be accepted to Oxford by age 14. Shreene, Rumi's mother, resentfully accepts the household dominance of Rumi's studies while worrying about how to raise her to be a proper young Indian woman. Rumi longs to be in India, where lots of girls are good at math and where she feels at home among her extended family. The pull of romance is also soon part of Rumi's equation. Lalwani does a nice job with the myriad cultural contradictions: a bewildered Shreene, for example, resorts to "archaic" scripts from her childhood, leading her to tell Rumi that "[o]nly white people have sex" and that Indian babies come from prayer. Well done, too, is Rumi's warm relationship with India. Lalwani doesn't have characterization fully down, but the pain and confusion she presents are deeply felt. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

You don't see much failure in coming-of-age stories. But math prodigy Rumi Vasi is here to change that. Born in Wales after her parents emigrated from India, Rumi studies numbers constantly, and under her loving mathematician father's guidance, she aces the high-school final exams at 14 and makes it to Oxford University. But what then? In her compelling debut novel, British author Lalwani subverts the standard immigrant-identity clichés with surprises that bring everything tumbling down. Nothing is simple: Rumi's mother longs for the old Hindi ways, even as she remembers her fury when her father would not let her sit the premed exams who would marry her? In a hilarious scene, she refuses to answer Rumi's questions about how babies are born: Through prayer. . . . Only white people have sex. Most compelling is the truth of Rumi's inner life: denied a childhood, the lonely math nerd, always obsessed with numbers, is totally unprepared for her sexual awakening and for her academic collapse.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2007 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IN the late 1990's, a 13-year-old math prodigy, Sufiah Yusof, made headlines in England as one of the youngest students ever admitted to Oxford. But her immigrant father insisted she wasn't particularly gifted, crediting her success to a strict program of home schooling designed to shield her from the "dangerous, shallow illusions" of Western culture. This regimen included keeping the house cold to sharpen concentration and banning American sitcoms and soaps - which, her father warned, "stir up the emotions." Sufiah's story seems to have been the inspiration for Nikita Lalwani's first novel, "Gifted." Here the driven father, Mahesh, is a mathematician from Punjab who came to England with dreams of studying at Cambridge but had to settle for a lesser, more financially welcoming school. (Mahesh would like it known, though, that "he'd got into all their universities - all the bloody jewels they treasured so exclusively in this country.") Now languishing as a lecturer at the University of Swansea, he bridles when a schoolteacher breathlessly informs him that his 5-year-old daughter, Rumi, is "gifted." "Why was she so surprised that he and his daughter could string numbers together with reasonable panache? They were hardly shopkeepers." Determined to push Rumi ahead, Mahesh transforms her life into a round-the-clock academic boot camp. At first, she thrives: having been ostracized on the playground for her "thick National Health Service glasses" and "shiny wardrobe of Indian synthetics," she finds comfort in both her preternatural affinity for numbers and the undivided attention of her father. But as she grows up, she rebels - reading novels by flashlight under the bedcovers, transcribing song lyrics, mooning over boys. In this, Rumi joins a pantheon of alienated adolescent literary heroines, but is she a genuine prodigy or merely your garden-variety overbright girl? Rumi, starting to fear the worst, morbidly imagines her brain exploding, revealing "a buzz of cheap numbers and symbols that anyone and everyone could memorize, given enough time and imprisonment." While much of the novel rings true, little in it feels revelatory. (In the Asian-American community I grew up in, an A-minus was a badge of shame and the decision to become an English major was greeted with wailing.) Lalwani is most successful in recording the brutal minutiae of a child's life on the fringes. Lonely Rumi anthropomorphizes numbers - 512 is "friendly," 7 "lucky and sexy, cheeky and cool. Everything she wasn't." Rumi's turning point doesn't come until almost the final pages of the book, just as the most interesting part of the story seems about to begin. In real life, Sufiah Yusof ran away from Oxford in her third year and, when found by the police, requested that her whereabouts be kept secret from her parents, whom she accused of abuse. They, in turn, declared that she must have been brainwashed by outsiders. According to news reports, Sufiah had begun to wear the hijab, eat organic food and attend meetings of the Socialist Workers Party. It's a more complicated tale than simply East vs. West, perhaps deserving a novel of its own. Is alienated, adolescent Rumi a genuine prodigy - or merely your garden-variety overbright yung girl? Ligaya Mishan is on the editorial staff of The New Yprker.


School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Rumi's immigrant parents are almost brutally self-conscious about their lives in Cardiff, Wales. Although she was born in Britain, Rumi, too, feels most comfortable during her two trips to India. Otherwise, childhood for her is an almost endless series of mathematics, interspersed with a few awkward social moments with peers. Rumi has a true affection for numbers but her math professor father wants a prodigy and pushes her to attain feats that don't make her happy, including early entry, at 15, to Oxford University. Lalwani draws Rumi's gift and her pain with precision and elegance, including engaging explanations of such concepts as proper numbers, without breaking the novel's mood of near-hopeless striving. Only when Rumi reads tabloid accounts of herself does she realize that she is, in fact, abused, a prisoner to her father's need for accomplishment and her mother's failure to protect her from his demands. Both gifted teens and those with siblings and friends designated as such will empathize with the protagonist's self-realization, and many will cheer as she breaks away to pursue a more normal life.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Guardian Review

Education exerts a powerful hold on the immigrant imagination. For first-generation immigrants, whose own dreams and aspirations were often thwarted by the cold reality of racism, it represented the means by which their children would be able to deflect discrimination and do their parents proud. This interpretation of the value of education - particularly prevalent among the Indian diaspora - understands that it can bring freedom but also imagines that freedom can remain firmly leashed to family expectations. It is this tension between competing versions of freedom that is explored in Nikita Lalwani's charming rite-of-passage novel. Rumi is 10 years, two months, 13 days, two hours, 42 minutes and six seconds old. Since the age of five she has lived with the knowledge that she is gifted, a mathematics prodigy for whom the secret world of numbers offers a reassuring solidity amid the uncertainties that scar her childhood. Her Indian family are avowedly and unashamedly aspiring: her father Mahesh, a mathematician, encourages his wife Shreene to visit the local library, and chooses to speak to his family in English. It is refreshing to read about an Asian father who is not an autocratic, woman-hating brute, who takes pride in not belonging to the uneducated hordes who left the villages of Pakistan, "seeping into the dark spaces of Britain . . . the crawling masses who had fallen into pockets of Leicester and Wembley". Mahesh's ambitions for his daughter lead him to organise special tuition to develop her remarkable talents. And yet, even though she can complete a Rubik's Cube in 34.63 seconds, the temptations of the outside world begin to encroach on Rumi: she can calculate that the probability of walking home from school with her classmate John Kemble is 0.2142, but she knows the odds that she might become anything more than a friend to him are less than zero. In the library, when her father assumes she is studying equations, she is in fact reading fiction, her mind filled with longing and loneliness. She secretly resents her father's "unbearable scrutiny on her life", his ability to "descend into the Dark Ages at will", and in desperation calls 999 simply to hear another person's voice. Lalwani's evocation of teenage dislocation is pitch-perfect and she inhabits her heroine's interior world with tender authority. The generational clash between Rumi and her parents - captured with precision and empathy - derives from the fact that her ethnicity and her genius make her special and therefore she stands out, yet she wants to be just like everyone else. Mahesh is driven by ambition for his daughter and deludes himself that by immersing her in equations he can preserve her from the temptations of the outside world. Meanwhile, Shreene believes that no gift for maths, no love of stories will save her daughter from the life that all young Asian girls are expected to follow. Rumi's precocious talent enables her to begin an Oxford degree when only 15 years, three months and eight days old, and it is here that she finally begins to emerge from her parents' shadow. In one beautifully described scene that takes place on her first day at university, Rumi stares at herself in the mirror and begins to curse. Pulling different faces and adopting a variety of voices, she uses the foulest language she knows and does it out loud. Because she can. Once she's tasted freedom, and the potent possibilities of affection - from, of all things, a young Muslim boy - a showdown with her parents is inevitable. Set amid the terraced streets of Cardiff, Lalwani's novel revitalises familiar subject-matter in second- generation immigrant fiction. In its broad contours, it echoes events in the real world, notably the story of Sufiah Yusof, a maths prodigy who began her studies at Oxford when 13. She disappeared in 2000, blaming her parents for placing too much pressure on her and for "15 years of physical and emotional abuse", and was eventually found by the police in Bournemouth after a nationwide hunt. The tragedy of child prodigies such as Sufiah and Rumi is that in pushing them towards education, their parents also pushed them away from them. "It seemed impossible to experience so much," observes the narrator sadly, "to soak in this world and all its possibilities . . . and then to go back to the past like an interloper, wash her hands and eat dinner with them as though it was all the same." Education, the great emancipator, is also the wall that can separate the generations; it is the gift that can so easily turn into a curse. Sarfraz Manzoor is the author of Greetings from Bury Park , a memoir of growing up in the 1980s (Bloomsbury). To order Gifted for pounds 15.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop Caption: article-SarfrazLalwani.1 [Mahesh]'s ambitions for his daughter lead him to organise special tuition to develop her remarkable talents. And yet, even though she can complete a Rubik's Cube in 34.63 seconds, the temptations of the outside world begin to encroach on Rumi: she can calculate that the probability of walking home from school with her classmate John Kemble is 0.2142, but she knows the odds that she might become anything more than a friend to him are less than zero. In the library, when her father assumes she is studying equations, she is in fact reading fiction, her mind filled with longing and loneliness. She secretly resents her father's "unbearable scrutiny on her life", his ability to "descend into the Dark Ages at will", and in desperation calls 999 simply to hear another person's voice. - Sarfraz Manzoor.


Kirkus Review

Excruciating ordeal of a math prodigy pressured by her father to enter Oxford. Rumi is the daughter of Shreene and Mahesh Vasi, Indian immigrants to Cardiff, Wales. Ever since her first elementary-school teacher heralded Rumi's gift for mathematics, Mahesh, a lecturer at the University of Wales, has been grooming his child for academic stardom. After a perceived snub by the local Mensa chapter, Mahesh designs a grueling study schedule for Rumi that occupies all her free time and enhances her isolation from her "normal" peers. As she crams for her college entrance exams--while a freshman in high school--Rumi, unbeknownst to her traditionalist parents, nurses some teenage crushes and accompanying heartaches. First there's Bridgeman, a chess-club and stamp-collecting geek, who undergoes a growth and "cool" spurt seemingly overnight. During a trip to India, a Bollywood-handsome cousin flirts with her by night then, for fear of his own parents, ignores her by day. Rumi's enforced regime causes her to develop some compensatory tics. As a child, she shoplifts sweets. As a teenager, she devours epic quantities of cumin seeds. But mostly her interior life is a seething cauldron of hormones and humiliation. Her developing puberty is viewed with alarm by her parents, who won't tolerate premarital friendships with boys. Nevertheless, Mahesh thrusts Rumi into the sophisticated, diverse ambience of Oxford, if only for two days a week, under the chaperonage of an Indian landlady. Her math diligence derailed by her longing for masculine attention, Rumi sneaks out of a child-prodigy convention to attend a campus party where she encounters Fareed. Their mutual infatuation screeches to a halt when Fareed learns, through the plentiful press on Rumi, that she's only 15. But when Mahesh, whose family was devastated by Muslim violence during Partition, finds Rumi's love notes to a Muslim, his roles as mentor and Hindu paterfamilias collide, risking the violent sundering of his own fragile hearth. Lalwani's impressive debut exhibits deep empathy for her characters' cultural and emotional displacements. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

On a trip to India, the family of eight-year-old Rumi becomes enthralled with her math skills, and the push is on for an early acceptance to Oxford. A few years later, Rumi rebels. The India-born first novelist was raised in Cardiff. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 Mahesh is sitting in his office, marking. He looks up at the arc of the window as a train rushes past, its urgency left behind in diesel scent and echoing clacks. The dank hush of autumn is settling into his room like a foregone conclusion. It is the eleventh season of its kind in his experience in the UK. The fourth of its kind in this room. Mahesh looks up. There are charts and pictures on the wall. The map of the world sits at an awkward angle, blue ocean disappearing  behind the iron bookshelf. Books bulge in huge rows, pressing together files and papers, orange foolscap running in chunky alternation with black, white and gray. In the left corner of the room, by the whiteboard, the bumpy illustration of Gandhi peers out at him. In his mind there is an annoyance that delicately attacks his thoughts every few minutes. Why did Rumi write that in her exercise book? This is the question that hooks into his conscience periodically: a tiny dental tool piercing soft gum. Why did she write it? I went to play with Sharon Rafferty and Julie Harris and Leanne Roper in the woods. They let me play softball which is like rounders but with only two bases. Sharon said "let's go and get the softball and racquets from my house." When we got to her place we stood outside the gate and Sharon said "I just have to check you can come in Rumi because my mum doesn't like colored people."  Then she went in with the others and I waited outside. Thank goodness she came back and said it was OK. Then we went in and had pop ices and got the racquets. Mrs. Rafferty was sunbathing in the garden and looked red. We took the racquets and played softball in the woods. "Colored."  The word had made him think of a crayon spreading a thick grainy brown over a round face, the kind of awkward pictures Rumi used to draw under duress when she was younger. Again he looks at Gandhi, wizened and unflinching, in the corner of his room. What would they make of this back in college, cocooned as they had been in the company of ideas? Trotskyites, Gandhian Communists--they had found plenty of names for themselves back then, chewing betel, relishing the bitter stain on their lips and debating whether class war was compatible with nonviolence. What would they think of this name? What would they think of the conversation he had attempted with Rumi after reading it? "Do you like your school, Rumi?" "I don't like the bullies." "What do you mean, bullies?" "People who aren't nice to me." "Do not let these things affect you. You are ten years old now." "What?" "You should be like a tiger in the jungle. Like Shere Khan in The Jungle Book." "What do you mean, Daddy?" "If someone hits you, then hit them back. If they hit you once, hit them twice." The words had come out of his mouth, as honest as a shotgun, and he had looked away when her eyes jumped. If you are shocked, so am I, he'd thought. But you are not going to be a victim. That I will not allow. What would they think of this--the Hyderabad college collective--this world that he had chosen to inhabit, placing a solitary, all-important offspring right at the center? Come to that, what about Whitefoot, his current friend, colleague from the PhD course at Cardiff, Marxist himself--what would he think? Another train goes past, carrying a heavy rattle inside it, dense as a migraine. The tremble of the room seems to jolt the Gandhi picture slightly. He can see a square of evening light on the glass, obscuring part of Gandhi's face. Colored? Why did she write it? It is four p.m., an early end to his day. He has marked four papers, and the room has lost most of its light. Mahesh screws the lid onto his fountain pen and places it in the outer pocket of his blazer so that the brushed steel is visible against the brown polyester mix. The pen had been a present from Shreene, bought with cash carefully siphoned from her first few paychecks, when she had begun to work after the birth. It is almost exactly the same age as Rumi. After ten years it still feels smooth to the touch, cool, not a single visible scratch or dent on the whole body of the piece. There is still that sensation of guilty pleasure at this luxury when he thinks about what it signifies, a tool of learning and wisdom--but a flamboyant one. He buttons up and puts the exam papers to one side, releasing the blind at his window before he locks up for the day, tucking two MSc dissertations under his arm to look at when he gets home. Five years earlier, Rumi had come home one day and announced that Mrs. Gold wanted to come round and meet her parents. She was just five years old, in her first class at school. Mahesh and Shreene had arranged to leave work early on the appointed day, and were home by three thirty. Shreene began to fry some bhajis, while Mahesh descended into a deep silence, waiting in his shirt and tie in the living room. When Mrs. Gold walked in, Rumi was holding her hand. "What a lovely walk home we've had together, Mr. and Mrs. Vasi," she said, letting Rumi go in ahead of her. Rumi squirmed and went suddenly quiet, looking up at her father. Mahesh stared at the teacher's peroxide coiffure--whipped and sprayed into rounded peaks and troughs, like a butterscotch dessert. He was confused. Mentally he fought against relaxing, a natural response to the large smile exuded by Mrs. Gold. "Is it possible to talk to you and your wife together?" she asked. Shreene had brought in the snacks and joined him, sitting with her hands in her lap, still formal in her work wear, tights and heels. There was an alertness about her: she kept looking covertly at Mahesh, as if to say, "Give me the signal and I'll go ahead with whatever it is we need to do." "What is it you wanted to talk about?" Mahesh said to Mrs. Gold, feeling the accented curves of his voice as though for the first time. "Is something wrong?" "No . . . far from it, Mr. Vasi. I wanted to give you some news that I think will make you very proud parents." "And that is?" "Rumi is a gifted child!" Mrs. Gold declared, unleashing the words with a thrilled upward turn of the mouth. Mahesh looked at Shreene, who was biting at the dry skin on her lower lip--a sign that she was tense. He looked at Rumi, who was staring at the floor, waiting for him to decipher the words. And then he cast his gaze back toward Mrs. Gold, and her radiant lines of teeth. "You mean she is doing well at school?" "I mean more than that, Mr. Vasi," said Mrs. Gold. "I mean that she is special. Different. Gifted." At this, Rumi started to fidget, scratching her nose and kicking her feet, looking from side to side, first at her mother, then at her father, her movements uncertain, exaggerated by the silence. Mahesh noticed that she had a scratch on her knee just below the hem of her corduroy dress, above the tight line of white sock gripping her calf. Shreene twitched her forehead at her daughter. Mahesh smiled at Mrs. Gold again, and softened his voice, aware that his daughter was listening to each word as he spoke. He tried to keep the pressure out of the sentences he began to create. "Myself and my wife take . . . Rumika's education very seriously. We are pleased that she is doing well in her studies and that her hard work has paid off. I am an academic myself--" Mrs. Gold shook her head, interrupting. "With due respect, Mr. and Mrs. Vasi, I'm talking about something else. I am talking about a gift. Something that only comes along now and then. Rumi is a gifted mathematician!" They were plunged into silence once more. Rumi moved her legs back and forth, pushing them rhythmically against the velour of the sofa. Mahesh registered vaguely that she was repeating the movement in batches of four, then pausing, like a physical chant. He watched her support one of her chubby little cheeks with a hand, which she made into a fist, balancing her elbow on her thigh. She was still staring at the floor. "I am also a mathematician and I am glad that she is doing well in this subject, as you say. I have placed emphasis on it because it is my area of speciality," said Mahesh, trying to maintain an amiable expression on his face. "We at Summerfield believe that Rumi deserves to have this gift nurtured," said Mrs. Gold. She leaned in, pulling her skirt together so that the pleat at the front disappeared neatly inside itself. She paused significantly, as though she was about to say something serious, possibly untoward. Rumi also leaned in automatically to listen, her swaying legs forcing themselves to halt, pressing a temporary dent into the sofa front. Even Shreene moved her body forward, raising her eyebrows expectantly. "Have you heard of a place called Mensa?" said Mrs. Gold. Mahesh felt exasperated. He had seen all the same adverts as her. The ads for this place she named with such careful tedium, as though she was rolling a diamond round her mouth. "Mensa." He'd seen their childish IQ tests, fooled around with filling them out in the Sunday papers. He knew what Mensa was, for goodness' sake. What did she take him for? And why was she so surprised that he and his daughter could string numbers together with reasonable panache? They were hardly shopkeepers. He was "peed off," as they said here: irritated. He tried to think of more slang, enjoying the taste of righteousness, dousing each word with it. He was "hacked off,"  "cheesed off,"  "not pleased." What did she think? That he was some third-rate charlatan, preening his feathers under the banner of academia? He felt a rumble in his stomach as the bhajis fermented, rising as though to validate his sense of pique. Oddly, the sensation cheered him. He felt like making a grand statement to this woman, one that Rumi would witness, about how it was possible through strength and discipline to create your own destiny using the power of thought: through marks, percentages, papers, exams, numbers that had added up, in his case, to a big sum in small hands--a scholarship across the ocean. He surveyed Mrs. Gold's darting eyes. She was watching his wife as she sipped her tea. Shreene was returning her gaze, looking round the room at intervals. What preconceptions did she bring with her--this queer-spoken woman with her little smiles and polite contradictions? He was not going to make a grand statement. It would only confuse things. But, if he could, he would tell her everything. He'd tell her he'd got into all their universities--all the bloody jewels they treasured so exclusively in this country: that he had been offered a place at their Cambridge and their University College of London. He had ended up in Cardiff because they had offered the cash--several thousand pounds of it, a sum that no one could deny for its totality. Full fees. They had wanted him here, a foreigner with no more than five pounds in his pocket and a slip of a wife, bare-toed and shivering. That was how he had got off the plane with Shreene in 1972, newly wed and aware, dignified by the patronage of their redbrick institutions, sure as a compass, leading the way for them both. He had not been among the thirty thousand Asians hemorrhaging out of the ugly scar in Uganda's belly that same year, seeping into the dark spaces of Britain, afloat in the soiled bath water of Amin's shake-up: the crawling masses who had fallen into the pockets of Leicester and Wembley. He was not going to be dissolved into the rivers of blood, among Enoch Powell's armies of bacteria, defecating in people's nightmares on the landscape of their precious country. He was Dr. Mahesh Vasi, PhD, a man who had begun his maths career repeating times tables under a large tree in Patiala with fifteen schoolmates, embossed with dust and driven by the pure heat of numbers. Now he was here, working just over an hour's commute away, speaking to a room of one hundred students each week, employed in name by the University of Swansea, subset of the University of  Wales itself. What about that, then? Mahesh cleared his throat and considered how to proceed. He uncrossed, then recrossed his legs with an air of what he hoped was leisurely contemplation. He still had to learn how to relax, uncoil the ritual desire to please. It was a shameful habit, nothing else, he told himself. Shreene offered Mrs. Gold the plate of snacks. The vegetables shone through the batter with glistening heat: dark purple eggplant skins and green zucchini, pushing their thick curves through the fried covering. "Please--have one," she said, smiling and pressing a paper napkin into the teacher's hand. "Do you like spicy food?" Mahesh took the opportunity to interject. "I know Mensa very well, Mrs. Gold. I'm happy to go there with Rumika and see what it is like." Excerpted from Gifted by Nikita Lalwani All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.