Rupa Bajwa is good at telling a story. Eight years after she won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for The Sari Shop, comes her second novel, also set in Amritsar. Bajwa is interested in the lives of ordinary people. The heroine here, Rani, is a slip of a girl, one you might see hurrying towards a workday at the local salon, giving facials and threading eyebrows. Rani’s family is a delicate ecosystem and when financial trouble noses its way into Rani’s tiny home, it brings the joint family crashing down.
Rani is interesting, a pert young thing mooning over Shahrukh Khan magazine cut-outs even as she sneaks peeks at the neighbourhood electrician. Bajwa ably paints Rani’s unselfconscious pleasures – in buying `10-earrings or her “anticipatory bliss” before a TV show.
If only Bajwa had stayed with this story. In the second half, Bajwa introduces Sadhna, a writer who has lost her way in the literary marketplace. It feels painfully autobiographical: Sadhna’s first book wins several awards and becomes a bestseller, yet leaves her too spent to write another novel. Out come the stereotypes about the glitterati and with them, the moral of the story: Delhi is a place of pseudo-intellectuals where “everyone was on the make, with an eye on the main chance”. Bajwa's story is sincere and satisfying despite the awkward second half. Sadhna and Rani, both “stalled” in their lives, have much in common. Yet pitting a working class tragedy against the life of a struggling novelist proves too much for this story to carry.
By Karishma Attari on May 25 2012 10.06am