Set against the stunning backdrop of North India, Nisha Sharma’s new YA contemporary novel, The Karma Map, is a charming coming-of-age road trip romance exploring the South Asian diaspora and self discovery. To celebrate its release, we’re so excited to be able to share with you an extract from chapter one of this beautiful story.
Five Hours to Departure: Flight AI102 Traveling JFK to DEL
Postcard dated July 1—two years ago:
You were only eight when Mom lectured you on karma. You used to walk around parroting her textbook, saying, “It’s commonly known as a universal principle of actions following an accumulation of good or bad deeds in the cycle of life.” I learned the same lesson, and I thought I understood, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I felt like I finally got it, thanks to a meme I found online. Karma is only a bitch if you are.
Miss you, munchkin.
Tara’s finger hovered over the big red delete button for a short, shallow breath before she pressed it.
A pop-up flashed across the screen, asking her to type the word DELETE.
“Seriously? You can’t make this easy for me?”
She rage-typed the letters and clicked okay.
Your profile has been deleted.
Done. All 1,605 pictures, videos, and memories. All nine thou¬sand-plus followers who’d first loved her, then shamed her.
Before she could second-guess her decision, she went to her other social-media platforms and quickly completed the same process.
When the last one disappeared, she let out a ragged breath.
She’d done it. She’d finally cut the cord. She was no longer con¬nected to Before-Tara.
Before-Tara would’ve wanted to know what everyone was doing and where they were hanging out. Before-Tara stayed on social media so she could keep tabs on what people were saying about her. Before-Tara had become a doom scroller who lurked in comments sections and read every vile, hateful, snarky message until her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep.
Most importantly, Before-Tara knew that she had to stay plugged in because her friends were no longer her friends. Her friends used to love her, used to confide in her, but now those same people spread rumors about her, even though she’d done everything right for the first time in years.
They were the reason the entire school had turned on her. She used to walk down the hallway and random kids would say hi to her. People that she didn’t even know. When she became public enemy number one, those same strangers would whisper names or block lunch tables or shove things in her locker because Umma told them something malicious.
Tara’s parents and her therapist urged her to delete her profiles months ago, but she just couldn’t do it. Not when she had to face those people every single day at Rutgers High. If she didn’t know what they were saying about her, then she couldn’t brace herself for the number of times she was called bitch, backstabber, or traitor in a day. She was essentially walking onto a battlefield without understanding what her opponents were bringing to the war.
But graduation was officially over, and she’d never have to talk to anyone at Rutgers High again. Now she was After-Tara. After-Tara had no social-media presence. After-Tara didn’t have to be afraid of the skeletons in her closet.
Her heart felt lighter. She was free.
Now she had a summer job that reminded her of everything she was before high school. She had to get reacquainted with her secrets.
But would anyone care?
She giggled, then slapped a hand over her mouth. No. No one would care or even know where she was. She would be completely off the grid and, within weeks, a distant memory. Especially since every¬one’s social-media feed was about to be filled with senior-week celebra¬tions at the beach while she would embark on her holy-girl summer volume 2.0.
“Tara!” her mother called from downstairs. “It’s time to go to the airport. Are you ready?”
Was she ready to revisit a part of her life she never thought she’d voluntarily have to experience again? Sure.
She stood from behind her desk and shoved her laptop, cords, and notebook inside her backpack. Her writing prompts—the colorful stack of her favorite world-travel postcards her older sister, Savitri, had sent her over the years—were safely tucked in her notebook. After her par¬ents and Savitri’s explosive fight years ago, the postcards were the only piece of her sister she had left. They were her most prized possession.
Tara slung the backpack over her shoulder and checked her desk to make sure she had gotten everything she needed. The printout of the letter from Berkeley stood out like a sore thumb from its place next to her mouse pad. The school had accepted her formal withdrawal better than her parents had when she decided that she wanted nothing to do with her old dance community.
Folded neatly underneath was a basic acceptance letter to a small liberal-arts college in Pennsylvania. It had been her safety school, and she’d only applied to it because its custom creative-writing major had caught her eye for some reason. She’d never intended to go since it was so isolated, but now she realized that the safety school was a blessing in disguise. More importantly, she was lucky the college was still willing to offer her a partial scholarship; otherwise, she would’ve been stuck going to the same university where her mother taught religious studies.
“Tara!” her mother yelled again.
“I’m coming,” she shouted back.
She checked her suitcase she’d left next to the door, everything that would accompany her during her two months in India. Sure, she would’ve preferred to spend her time on the beach instead of reliving childhood memories, but she needed the money. Tara was just going to have to get through the trip as best as she could.
Her father stepped into her bedroom doorway, crossing his arms over his chest as he sized up her things. He wore one of the dozens of free merch shirts featuring cartoon characters that he’d received from his marketing department. It contrasted with the long streak of white and red powder on his forehead from his morning trip to the local temple.
“Do you need help with your bag?”
Tara stiffened, her muscles tight with irritation. “I’d prefer if you could help get me out of this trip, but if you want to carry my stuff, that’s fine, too.”
“Tara, this is going to be a stroll in the park for you.” Her father gave her suitcase a little spin, then tested the weight. “You’ve been tak¬ing these pilgrimages since you were barely old enough to walk. Not to mention the fact that you were a student on this exact tour four years ago. Think of it as easy money. Which, might I remind you, you need to pay us back for all the expenses we accrued for admission fees, appli¬cation fees, and college tours.”
“I still don’t understand why I can’t get a job at your office. I bet all the other executives hired their kids. I’m not like Savitri Didi—”
“I told you already. It has nothing to do with your sister’s history at the company. My office made their hires for the summer, and I can’t be showing favoritism. Now, if you want to work in the theme parks . . .”
Tara made a gagging sound. “Wasn’t it torture enough that you dragged us to those hot, crowded parks for years?” To this day, she still wanted to throw up at the smell of buttered popcorn.
Her father raised his brow. “You loved it when you were a kid.”
“I’m not a kid anymore, and I haven’t been for a long time. Between the parks and the temple tours, I don’t know how people never figured out that I was a total weirdo with culty religious parents and a dad who is obsessed with roller coasters.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “You’re a weirdo with life skills. Now, this summer is an opportunity for you to reflect on what you want in your future.”
“The only reflecting I’m going to do is on how much money I’ll be making to pay my debt and to cover book expenses for college. India in the summer is literally a hellscape, Dad. Even if we’ll be in the moun¬tains for most of the trip.”
“Be respectful!” her mother shouted from downstairs.
Tara rolled her eyes just as her father’s narrowed, as if to tell her to stop it.
“I’m just surprised Mom isn’t insisting on going with me,” Tara said, motioning to the door.
“You’re lucky she has those theology summer sessions,” her father replied with a grin. “Since you’re on your own, maybe you can look at this trip as an opportunity to cultivate your art.”
“Is that what you told Savitri?”
Tara regretted saying the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Two references to her sister in the span of five minutes was a lot. Her father still kept in touch with Savitri without her mother’s knowl¬edge, but it hurt him not to have seen his oldest in years. She could see the sadness reflected in the sheen in his eyes.
“Dad, I’m sorry, I—”
“I’m telling you now,” he said softly, straightening from his relaxed position against the doorjamb. “You can work on your short stories. You used to write all the time. And you’ll have great pictures for your social media. Those temples are gorgeous.”
She shifted the strap of her backpack, reveling in that light, floating feeling in her gut. “I deleted them.”
“All of my social-media accounts. Every single one of them. Finally.”
Her father’s jaw dropped. “What? When?”
There was pounding on the staircase. Her mother appeared in the doorway next to her father. The bright-red streak of sindoor in her hairline stood out like a beacon, and her gold nose ring glinted.
Usually, Tara’s mother looked at her with horror, but this time, she had hope in her eyes. “Do you feel okay? You were so against doing it for a long time.”
“I’m turning over a new leaf,” Tara said, motioning to her book¬shelves crammed with romance and fantasy novels, dance trophies, and pictures of her former friends. There was even one of Jai, which she kept around to remind her how badly she’d screwed things up with such a great guy. “And I don’t want people who’ve already made assumptions about me to find me.”
Her parents shared a look, the same sort of silent communication that used to drive her absolutely bonkers.
“Beta,” her father said, “we’ve been supportive of whatever you want to do online for a while now, because frankly, we don’t understand it. Getting rid of something that no longer gives you peace is a good thing, but you shouldn’t be doing it because you want to hide.”
Her mother nodded. “We talked about you disconnecting gradu¬ally, one platform at a time. Otherwise, it’s going to create a withdraw¬al-like reaction, and you may go back to—”
“I’ve been disconnecting for the last few weeks,” Tara said. Which was true. Sort of. Automatically, she checked her phone, her thumb hovering over where one of her apps used to be. She almost cursed out loud. “Oh, look at the time,” she said, and slipped her phone in her back pocket.
“I think I need to see your cell,” her mother said, holding out her hand, palm up. “I don’t know if I trust—”
“Tara, you’ve been so difficult all through high school,” her mother said shrilly. Her open hand closed into a fist. “You stopped coming to temple with us these last months, you withdrew from a perfectly good school, you started Western science–based therapy. Look at this from our perspective.”
“Yeah, and all I see is that you started all of this!”
“How dare you—”
Her father clapped as if he were trying to get the attention of a boardroom full of executives instead of his wife and his eighteen-year-old daughter. “Let’s not ruin the last few hours we have together. This is still progress, Tara. We can manage withdrawal if we have to. Now you have all this free time to—”
“Think about my future?” she said, cutting him off. “You sound like a broken record.” Tara grabbed the handle of her suitcase and pushed it between her parents and into the hallway. “I just want to make my money and come home. Then when I get to college, I can figure out who I want to be and what I want to do.” Bending at the knees, she lifted her bag and headed downstairs.
Her parents started whispering behind her until her father’s voice carried over the sound of her struggling with the weight of her bag. Their argument grew louder as she made it to the landing until she heard her father say, “You tell her!”
Great, what now? She turned around and waited.
“Uh, Tara?” her mother said.
“Hahn Ji,” her mother corrected.
“Hahn Ji,” Tara parroted back, a reflex she’d learned as a child from her mother’s language lessons.
“I know that you’ve done temple trips with your father and me plenty of times,” her mother said, coming down the staircase one hes¬itant step after another. “And your sister . . . well, she responded in an extreme way—”
“If you’re going to go on another rant about Didi, please save it.”
Her parents shared that unspoken communication again as they all stood in the foyer, staring at each other.
“I want to tell you about my first pilgrimage,” her mother started. “As someone with experience, I think you should know a few things. I remember when I was your age—”
“Nope! No, thank you.” Tara opened the front door. This was exactly why she’d decided to say yes to being a junior guide after she swore she’d never go back on another temple tour. Because anything was better than dealing with her pushy, invasive mother, who refused to take time to understand her daughters. “I am not interested in a journey down memory lane. Whenever you compare your experience to mine, we end up arguing. I’m just trying to get through this summer.”
“No, I feel like we need to discuss this,” her mother replied. “Now that you’re a woman of a certain age, and by yourself without parental authority, you may experience certain desires—”
“Oh my god, I’m going to throw up,” Tara said. She rushed out the door and called out over her shoulder. “I’ll wait in the car for you two. With earplugs.”
Excerpted from The Karma Map by Nisha Sharma with permission from the publisher, Skyscape, New York. Copyright © 2023 by Nisha Seesan. All rights reserved.
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