The story is told from the point of an old woman, Bhima, who works in a wealthy household as a maid. She has a granddaughter for whom she wants nothing less than extraordinary things. But, her granddaughter ends up pregnant and, in Bhima’s eyes, smashes any hopes for a bright future. Bhima has worked for Serabai for decades and is essentially part of the family – but she isn’t allowed to sit on the chairs or sip tea from the same cups as the rest of the family. The reason: She’s of a different class, and cannot taint the belongings of Serabai’s house. Serabai still treats her with respect, but it’s simply understood that Bhima cannot take liberties in the house as though it is her own. I can see how this would annoy some readers, because discrimination based on class seems and is completely absurd; however, this is often the case in India, where even though the maid eats at the house, cleans it, and sometimes even sleeps in it, there are utensils, clothes, etc reserved for her that noone else uses. Is it wrong? Yes, but it still happens. I remember when we lived in India, our maid refused to eat at the table with us even when we asked her to because she wasn’t used to doing it at other houses that she had worked at. She looked at us like we were crazy, and one time got so angry that we were asking her that she stormed out.
In any case, the story is also told in Bhima’s boss, Serabai’s voice. Serabai’s daughter, who is expecting a baby in a few months, and Viraf, a successful, “dashing” young man, both live in Serabai’s house. Serabai has been through her share of shitty times (to put it eloquently lol), and now is looking forward to her only daughter’s first child. Her past is told in alternating chapters with Bhima’s story, and it’s fascinating to see how these two women, one of them with her fancy dinner plates and another with her shabby, leaky straw hut, have been through more tears than laughs, and even though they are nothing alike, they coexist in the same household and share their worries, yielding a surprisingly therapeutic effect on each other. This novel dives into the silent struggle between classes and heart-wrenching marital predicaments. Not necessarily a thrilling read, and I wouldn’t call it a page-turner, but I really liked it. The story is not action packed, but there’s a way that Umrigar slowly unravels the details of each character’s life that makes the novel compelling.
Cross posted here