Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

Ramchand is a quiet, slightly withdrawn clerk at the Sevak Sari House, the most elite sari shop in the small city of Amritsar. Slowly sinking into apathy because of the drudgery of his day to day existence, Ramchand is startled back into life when he is chosen to deliver saris to the soon-to-be-married daughter of the most powerful family in town. Drawn to the elegance of Rina Kapoor's life, he vows to better himself to improve his lot in life. Using his valuable savings to purchase used books, Ramchand teaches himself to read English.

In the midst of his self-improvement project, Ramchand is sent on another errand, a journey which takes him to the depths of Amritsar society. Dispatched to find an absent coworker, Ramchand learns more than he ever wanted about the tragedy of his colleague's home life. The more he learns about the crazy drunken wife of his coworker, the more disaffected Ramchand becomes with his life and the inequalities of Indian society.

This book is a well-drawn picture of the extremes of Indian society. A quick read, The Sari Shop nevertheless provokes deeper reflection on the ties that bind us all to the life we know. In an interview at the end of the book, the author talks about writing it to express her frustration with Indian society and the vast inequalities facing women and the poor. I enjoy fiction about India, and believe this is one of the better treatments I've read on the subject. This debut novel certainly points to better things to come from Rupa Bajwa.

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