The Days Toppled Over

Malli has not spoken out loud with another human being in thirteen years. Most people assume Malli is mute from birth, but she suffers from an unusual anxiety disorder that renders her unable to speak outside her own home. Only leaving her home in Bangalore – within a senior citizens complex – to assist the other residents, the highlight of Malli’s life is a long-standing weekly phone call with her younger brother, Surya, who is studying in Australia, whose chatty updates bring colour to Malli’s days. When, for the first time, Surya misses their weekly call, Malli’s quiet life is thrown into disarray.

Her anxiety building, Malli seeks answers online and is grateful when a user, named Nayan, on a missing persons forum, offers to help. As days pass without word from Surya, Malli decides she must travel to Australia to find out what has happened to him, and Nayan offers to accompany her. Malli, however, is unprepared for the wildly unconventional and embarrassingly outspoken man who turns up at her doorstep.

In Sydney, student life is less glamourous, and more precarious, than Surya had imagined, all in pursuit of the golden 457 visa, the only path to Permanent Residency in Australia. At the Newtown restaurant at which he lives and works, Surya feels he can endure the squalid living conditions and the abysmal pay if it will secure him the elusive work visa which will allow him to stay in the country. When a racist customer upends the knife-edge hierarchy at the restaurant, it sets off a chain of events that will see Surya committing a reckless act of love, risking everything for which he has worked so hard.

Set between Bangalore and Sydney, the narrative spans a period of several weeks, and alternately follows Surya in the days leading up to his disappearance, and Malli’s journey to find him. Gently and evocatively shared, with a rich sense of place, a memorable cast of characters, and a good dose of humour, The Days Toppled Over is a powerful exploration of mental health, family, listening, connecting, and how international students in Australia live.

A hopeful story, it illuminates how we all need friends and contact with other humans and how these simple things can result in transformation.

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