This book is by the award-winning author of three informative books that she had written on issues before presenting a fiction to depict contemporary history of India as told by a sutradhar (storyteller). “It is in a new format that I have experimented with for the first time,” said Pinki Virani, the author, to IANS.
This book by journalist-cum-author has an intriguing plot beginning with Saraswati, a Bengali librarian with a cleft lip, whose words do not make sense to people when she is alive because of her deformity. But she dies on a Thursday, surrounded by her beloved books in the library. Her dead body is discovered on Monday and she goes back on her childhood memories when she gets used to being made fun of due to her deformity in every school that she changes to escape from being teased. Now the spirit is free to play the sutradhar and watch over all she holds dear – her sister Damayanti, wife of a superstar; Tisca, the heroine spurned by a rising star; Qudsia Begum, a Bangalore beautician and wise mother; Czaerandhari, the erstwhile Maharani and SMS-addict and hard-talking journalist, Nafisa, who hides a secret.
This book examines the crisis which underlies the façade of progressive modernity in present-day India through a set of characters commonly seen in daily life; if not directly, then through the six degrees of separation, which thread together this story of a life-changing weekend.
Mother tells Saraswati that she is deformed because “when she entered the crowded room, her presence eclipsed others, or this problem has eclipsed our lives” when explaining to Damayanti. Saraswati then talks of the wily husband of Bhagyalakshmi, scooter-driving bank employee, transposed from cultured Chennai to dusty Delhi; and in Bombay, the two men who leave Maya bleeding—her right-wing father and right-thinking twin brother.
Not only about human beings, the lives are depicted against a society where forces of old Bharat battle with India, where change has to be wrested from tradition, of and end with calamitous effects. The author talks about religion too – about two of the oldest religions which “flaunt their savage side”. She adds, “In the name of a third religion, a cleansing commences in India against the international terrorists. And it’s clear that it needs to be thorough because India’s Muslims have numbers which are front-line soldiers to the country’s minorities, the Dalits and Christians.
She talks of the demolition of Babri structure and says, “In the wake of the demolition, a pogrom is unleashed against the M-word in Bombay.” She calls it India’s second Partition and though “the first was geographic, the second is even more catastrophic. It paves the way for religions terrorism of every colour, national and international, to enter every city.”
As this reviewer has read the other two books by the author, it is felt that she should confine herself to writing non-fiction rather than fiction where she keeps jumping from one character to another.
(HarperCollins Publishers India, A-53 Sector 57, Noida-201301.)