Friday, February 05, 2010

Brief Review: "Bombay Time" by Thrity Umrigar

Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar, 2001.

Bombay Time shows us a small group of closely-connected people, all members of the minority Parsi community and all life-long (or near life-long) residents of a single apartment building -- Wadi Baug -- in turn-of-the-millennium Bombay. The novel focuses on a single important event, the wedding of a young man who has grown up in Wadi Baug, and reveals to us the life stories of almost a dozen of the residents, leading in every case up to each's participation in the wedding feast and, most important, a special gathering of this group following the feast for a gift for each prepared by the bridegroom's father. We learn a great deal about each of these individuals, following their lives in most cases over 30 to 40 years, and come to see their desires, their hopes, their successes and failures, and what they think of themselves and each other after a lifetime together as neighbors and in a sense as members of a kind of extended family. Reflecting on their own lives, some members of the group at least come to a better understanding of themselves and their own lives, particularly after Jimmy Kanga presents them with his gift, and some, although not all, are changed for the better as a result. However, at the end of the novel, the outside world of modern Bombay (now Mumbai, of course), the world of poverty, violence, hunger, and despair, breaks in upon them all in a forceful and unexpected way, and reveals that there is still a larger world which threatens the small, familial world of Wadi Baug, with the result that the novel ends on a rather ambiguous note.

I enjoyed the novel and the exploration of the individual characters who make up the community of Wadi Baug; it's another novel -- like A River Sutra I reviewed earlier -- which presents us with a cross-section of a portion of Indian society, here on a smaller scale than in A River Sutra and confined to a single ethnic group, but still pleasurable to experience. I recommend Bombay Time.


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