On first opening this book, I was curious about what would unfold. I was drawn into an unfamiliar society where forms of address were strange but easily classified into the formal, the respectfu , the familiar and affectionate, even if the reader has no idea of the actual translation into English. The characters are drawn from the opposite ends of the social spectrum: widowed Kamala and her intelligent teenage son Narayan are desperately poor and live in one room with a dirt floor, where the facilities are a cold tap in the middle of the courtyard, no heating and a communal bathroom. She works as a housemaid for Anand K. Murthy`s family: they live in a lavish house on the outskirts of Bangalore. Anand is the owner of a factory, Cauvery Auto, which makes pressed metal body car parts. He has married well, has a daughter and a young son and so is considered to be both rich and successful, at least to those on the outside.
Kamala wants the best for Narayan. She wants him to have a private education which will lead to a respectable job: she herself wants a better life for herself too. She will go to the utmost lengths of honest human endurance to attain these objectives. Unfortunately, her employer`s wife, Vidya, is not of a stable disposition and holds her staff`s present and futures in her hands. She follows the latest trends in the Westernised “beau monde” and has the money to do so. She is the victim of caprice and is the scourge of her staff: stolid Kamala, lazy Thangam and ill-tempered Shanta, the cook.
Anand himself has plans to expand the factory and he has a Japanese company interested in his product. In order to do so, Anand needs to purchase more land but does not want, nor can he afford, to go the way which is normal in modern India – that of the culture of political backhanders, corrupt payments and bribes to obtain what you require. Must he accept the help of his high-handed, high-living but not so high-minded father-in-law, Harry Chinappa? Does he go with the Landbroker, an honest and knowledgeable dealer in land purchase? And should he allow his nascent feelings for the captivating and sympathetic Kavika, confidante of Vidya, to develop, or stay with his wife for the sake of the family honour?
This is a delightful and engrossing insight into the struggles of ordinary people in today`s Indian society. Lavanya Sankaram weaves the destinies of her characters through their aspirations, their struggles with the old ways embodied by Anand`s father and by his right-hand man at the factory, Ananamurthy, and the attitudes emerging from the growing economy of modern India. She immerses the reader in a culture which is sometimes alien to our own and yet also disturbingly (I find) familiar. A fascinating book by an observant and delightful author.
Review by Liz
Thank you to Tinder Press for sending us a copy to review.
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