Set in 1975 it brought home to me particularly the problems of caste that is peculiar to India. In Sri Lanka you would think being so close to the Indian sub continent we would think on similar lines, and be influenced by India, but though caste has been of importance to some families even now specially at the time of marriage, it is nowhere all pervasive the way it appears to be in India, specially as recent as 1975 and this I am very grateful for.
The book starts with India in turmoil and four people brought together by circumstance - a Parsi boy, a Parsi widow and two tailors from a village in India of an untouchable caste, forcing them to live together in a time of dire "Emergency" brought on by a dictatorial, cruel government ruled entirely by thugs and corrupt politicians.
The four are forced to face untold problems - for Dina a young widow the matter of survival and keeping her independence is important, rather than being an unpaid domestic in her arrogant brothers household. Maneck the young Parsi boy sent to study in the big city by his parents whose business has failed and the two young tailors who by the sheer spirit of one of their fathers was taught the business of tailoring in direct opposition to centuries old tradition of father following son in a predetermined occupation - in this case tanners a job almost at the bottom of the caste conscious India of the time. In this story the hardships endured by people of this caste are unimaginable - the hideous punishment meted out to those who even try to better themselves in the tiniest way possible is heart breaking to read.
The draconian laws of the time protecting the rich and famous and planning to keep the poor downtrodden are well depicted in the story. Reading between the lines you can see the Indira Gandhi regime with its enforced sterilization policy and the manner in which it was done - so cruel and inhumane - just maintaining the quotas for each area was the aim. How and who was effected by this was not the concern of government officials.
The obvious sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden in India comes very much to the fore of this book. You know that with the sympathy that pours out for the characters is also the feeling of outrage and anger that actually one can do nothing to improve or help any of them.
This was not an easy book to read - I had to keep it aside several times and come back to it later as the descriptiveness of the violence and hatred and man's cruelty to man was immense. At the same time the spirit of friendship, even in times of great personal danger and the need to survive is also strong. The story also depicts that it is not always that justice and goodwill that triumph. In this the darker side of life is definitely triumphant even at the end and thus the book is sad. I would have liked for a happier ending but life is not always so and in this book it definitely is not.
I had not read this author before but I am definitely looking out for books by him. I only hope the next one will not be so heavy on my spirit.