Set in modern day India, this book comprises of a series of letters, written by the self made Balram Halwai to the Premier of China.
Originally from a tiny village in ‘the darkness’ of rural India, Balram was an intelligent boy, constantly let down by poor familial connections,and subsequent low societal expectations. This is most poignantly described in an incident where a school teacher named him – his own family just using the word ‘boy’ for him up until that point.
Despite his enthusiasm and determination to make something of himself, he is hampered by many aspects of Indian society – from the post-colonial political situation to the lasting legacies of a caste system constantly bubbling under the surface, to religious differences.
It took an act of unusual desperation and depravity to allow him to leave his village, and use his skills to get ahead in the bustling city of New Delhi.
– What a fantastic book! Such an insightful look into contemporary India – a country I have never visited, but one that I remain fascinated by. As I noted in the Book Club when we read this book (7), I particularly enjoyed the no-holds barred view of New Delhi – this is no Slumdog Millionaire India (film – the book is far far better). No one is likely to burst spontaneously into song at the end of a dramatic scene (OK, I might be being a little hard on SM here), rather it is a more honest portrayal of a people and a country well aware of the compromises that must be made to ensure healthy survival, and to a certain extent, their attempts to justify these decisions within individual codes of honour, religion and morality.
– I never really warmed to any of the characters, particularly of those from the ‘Master’ class, but even the central character was fairly obnoxious at times. It’s a credit to the author that the setting that he creates manages to suck this reader in, despite such unfeasibly selfish characters, and pretty feeble plot. As we noted before, I don’t think that this could be transposed onto a different environmental setting – without SERIOUS revisions. For some reason, the very unrealistic nature of the story suits this country still attempting to pull so many of its diverse strands together, in a way that would seem hokey if attempted in other parts of the world.
– I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with itchy feet. It put a longing in me to visit India. Far more than more recent reads, I feel that this is a love story to the country – one that takes into account all the negative realities, but sees the good underneath, and loves despite them.
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