Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rich Like Us - Nayantara Sahgal

Rating: 9/10


Rich Like Us is a snapshot of India and her people before and after independence, and the story of how the Emergency of 1975 ruined the democratic values that this country was founded upon. This is a story told through the lives of two women - the 'Cockney memsahib' Rose and the young, well-educated, unconventional Sonali. I went in looking for a tale about the Emergency but this book is a chronicle of the ills, weaknesses and strengths of a country so complex that it would take more than a lifetime to 'discover'. 

Sahgal's writing is beautiful, sometimes almost lyrical while at times overboard with metaphors. Nevertheless, to convey powerful ideas and opinions in a deceptively simple style is a great achievement indeed. This book is very quotable too. Sample this:

'Only the perfect relationship can be utterly destroyed the moment one fine hairlike crack appears in the structure, when betrayal becomes a matter of one person ordering fish and chips for dinner instead of the stew agreed on, and a chapter read separately out of a book two were reading together.'

It is very easy to see why this book won the coveted Sahitya Akademi award and the Sinclair Prize and equally difficult to see that not many even in India read Sahgal's books! I can only say that you're missing out on one of the most wonderful writers I've read, one who has a keen eye for history and politics and seamlessly intertwines the both in her books.

The two female protagonists in this inherently feminist book which feels no need to shout out its feminist theme from the rooftops, are amazingly interesting and beyond cliches. Both the strength and something of a weakness of this book, is the fact that Sahgal deals with so many themes from sati to corruption to religion to the British Raj to Ramayan to partition to politics which on one hand is an amazing collection of thoughts and on the other, might be too overwhelming and sometimes irrelevant. 

Politics forms a major part of the book and Sahgal, a well-known critic of her cousin Indira Gandhi, minces no words in slamming Mrs.Gandhi's emergency and her nepotism in bringing up her son Sanjay to a position of great power. Of course not once does she mention either Indira or Sanjay by name (she calls them 'Madam and her son' instead), but she doesn't need to. Her sharp sarcasm and dry sense of humour sparkles and makes this book all the more exciting.

Sahgal dedicates this book to  'The Indo-British experience and what its sharers have learned from each other' . That is exactly what the book is all about, in addition to being a wonderful experience for the reader that I highly recommend.


Vaishnavi said...

Hey Kals,

Great review! I loved the quote and shall definitely try to get hold of this book. I see that you are reading Love Letters, I liked the book. Waiting for your review :)

Kals said...

Thanks. I definitely think you'd like this book =)

Oh yes I remember well. In fact, I picked up Love Letters because of your review and recommendation :)

Alyce said...

I don't know a lot about the history of this time period in India, so I'm sure I would learn a lot by reading this book.

Kals said...

I definitely think so. Plus, one of the perspectives from which this story is told, is that of an Englishwoman who discovers India. So Sahgal doesn't assume that the reader knows a lot about the country. It should be an interesting read at the least :)

Veens said...

I was eying this book on a site ... and decided to put it in my wishlist... Good instinct on my part :)
Great review!

Kals said...

That is excellent instinct indeed! I highly recommend it and I'd love to hear what you think of the book :)


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