This is one of those heartrending books that would be burned into my memory. The story of the four main characters is told in a calm, understated and sometimes dry-humored tone, but the characters, their poignant back stories as well as the settings just jump right off the page. The whirlpool of corrupt and brutal politics, the inhumane caste system, ethnic hatred, sexual abuses, abject poverty and social despair gives the narrative a pulsating realism that keeps the reader well-grounded in its authenticity.
Dina Dalal, a widow trying to live independently of her overbearing brother, and Maneck Kohlah, a congenial college student and her sub-tenant, are from the relatively well-off Parsi community. Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash Darji are from the lowly Chamaar caste of untouchables. A strange twist of fate brings them together under one roof and a beautiful story unfolds of the four skeptics-turned-friends, of the Darjis’ endless struggles with unspeakable tragedies, and of Dina’s and Maneck’s mutual friendship and their compassion and succor for the Darjis.
Generally, it is a novel that is unapologetic in its assail against the dark side of human nature, the absurd cruelty of those who wield power and the venom of bigoted conventions. It leaves the reader to ponder whether in the end human goodness will balance out evil.
Here are some philosophical quotes that I like:-
“A lifetime had to be crafted, just like anything else, she thought, it had to be moulded and beaten and burnished in order to get the most out of it.”
“’You see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’”
“Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.”
The novel was a long read (my copy has 713 pages), but worth every minute. I’m giving it 5-stars.