A dream of mine is to visit Varanasi and when I saw the cover of this book I just grabbed it from my friend as it depicts the ghats of Varanasi also known as Benares.
The story set in Benares is one of Samar - young, innocent and idealistic, conservative and from an orthodox Brahmin background just finding his feet in the world in general - the university as well as foreigners (for him an unknown).
Samar finds it difficult to understand many things - love and marriage. In an arranged marriage which is the norm for Samar's world love and marriage are not spoken together! Marriage is arranged for lots of reasons and love is not one of them. Put this with the concept of Catherine living together with Anand and being in love with him - she also falls in love or lust with Samar and this for him is heartbreaking as well as a puzzle. Can someone love two people at one time? Samar is so innocent that it is difficult to understand how one can come to his age and still remain so untouched by the harsh world of reality. But it does happen specially to people who come from protected backgrounds and those who only know the little world of their own community and village. Thrust into the larger world Samar has to confront and understand a whole world which is foreign to him.
There are many reviewers who have viewed this book saying it emphasises too much the poverty, the grime and squalor of the poor and slums of India. True - this is apparent in the book but one must understand that we are dealing with a massive population and however much you try to refine and see the beauty of India, the poor are always on its periphery and probably will always be there.
I liked this book very much - specially because of the descriptiveness of Benares for me a personal favourite.