Finally, women’s voices are speaking loud and clear. We’ve been fortunate to hear Christine Ford, Emma Gonzalez, and others who at personal risk, say forthrightly what has needed for a long time to be said. (And kudos to Gov. Jerry Brown, who made CA the first state to require that companies have a woman on their board of directors.)
But this book explores women’s silences, springing from their terrible abuse and exploitation. Readers who have met Bhima and Parvati in these pages will never look at two old Indian women the same way again. Although they are desperately poor, they have more fortitude, resilience and chutzpah than most of us raised in sheltered and educated ways. While the first instinct may be to pity, stand back. One realizes quickly that one is in the presence of a formidable force here. Despite horrific obstacles, buried wounds and psychic trauma, they survive, thrive, and nurture others.
While North Americans may not fully understand Indian culture, the taboos governing employer and employee relationships, or how these are changing now, the author does. Umrigar has proven in previous books (The Story Hour, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us and others) a compassion for women, a refusal to stereotype men, and a deep knowledge of the human qualities that transcend gender or national borders. It’s particularly interesting to watch Bhima evolve from horror at a lesbian couple who employ her, to shock that they would treat her like a friend, to uncritical love and appreciation for their kindness to her granddaughter Maya.
The reader develops such a kinship with the two leading ladies that she reads with gusto, sometimes shock at how mercilessly they’ve been insulted, and finally with triumph at the reconciliation one engineers for the other. Arrogant, angry, bitingly intelligent, irreverent, blasphemous, raunchy, rigid, caustic, funny, street smart, defiant Parvati enables her friend Bhima to escape the squalor of Mumbai and enter a scene of lush green beauty where she realizes a dream she’s suppressed so long she’s rarely voiced it. No more clues, lest they ruin an ending so beautiful every reader should experience it for him or herself.