For me, if a book is set in India – or even if it is only about people from India – it has a certain head start. I’m not sure what it is, as I’ve never even been to India and don’t particularly want to go there, but something about Indian fiction seems to captivate me. I have no idea to what extent this fictional India that lives in my mind bears any relation to the real India – probably not a great deal – but either way it is a place that evokes something for me.

Well, this book is set in India. More specifically, it is set in India of the 1970s, in the grip of the “Emergency”. Corruption, violence and injustice are rife. Four lives are thrown together, intertwined, and shattered.

Dina is a woman striving to survive independently of her unbearably unsympathetic brother. Widowed while still young, she has scraped a living by sewing until her eyesight began to fail and now she needs to find tailors to help her in her business. Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash are tailors who come to the city to escape danger and seek their fortune. They are the only ones to survive the cold-blooded murder of the rest of their family, a retribution exacted by the local upper-caste thugs when Ishvar’s brother – Om’s father – dares to try and exercise his right to vote. Finally, Maneck is the son of one of Dina’s old school friends, come reluctantly to the city to study at the college, where Dina takes him in as a paying guest.

The four of them come to depend on one another, to become family, and the book is about how friendship, and even love, grows to produce a happiness that cannot last. It is also, ultimately, about the tragedy of their lives and the failures they each suffer.

On a grander scale, the novel is also about the tragedy of India. It is about the systematic victimisation of India’s already poor and underprivileged citizens, and how they struggle to survive it. It is about the cruelty of a heartless bureaucracy. It is about the corruption of decent people during indecent times. It is heart-breaking.

Here is an Amazon link.
I got my copy from the library – after several weeks of waiting.
I’m not surprised that there was a waiting list.