Nayantara Sahgal is already an acclaimed name in the field of Indian – English fiction and “Emergency” still rings bells to all those who have had lived in that period of “Emergency’ – 26 June 1975 to 21 March 1977. So when you flip through the covers of the novel “Rich Like Us”, and mark Nayantara Sahgal as the author and Emergency as the theatre of the story, the brain-watering juices are bound to be released. Add the factor that the author is the cousin of the chief protagonist of that period – Nayantara Sahgal, is the daughter of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s sister, Vijayalaxmi Pandit, and the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi is the daughter of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru.
The fact that I belong to the band of ‘the impressionable young common citizen’ social, or political, class at that time, it was obvious that the book was a ‘must-read’ the moment I saw on the shelves of the library.
Politics is the central running theme in this novel. Though worked around an interesting premise, the story did not match up to my expectation of having the socio-political points of views of a novelist of a very critical period of India’s post-independence history. The narrative jumps from one character to another, and from past to present in a manner, which is far from smooth.
The narrative flows from the perspective of an idealist IAS officer, Soanli, educated in the post-independence Britain but revolves mainly around the life of a British woman, Rose, who is hopelessly charmed by the young Indian Ram and ‘jumps’ into a matrimony that her family neither understands nor approves. When she comes to India, India is under the last phase of the Raj. She also comes to know that Ram is already married and has toddler son from that marriage.
The story flip-flops through Rose’s life – her acclimatization in the Indian social milieu and Ram’s family, Ram’s Indian wife’s attempt for suicide and Rose saving her, Rose trying to collaborate with Sonali to prevent the fraudulent means of her stepson of using his paralytic father – with Sonali’s narrative of her own life in the new ways of the Government under the new equations of Emergency, her student days at Britain – and en passé references to the realities of clamp down of the culture of impersonated sycophancy and corruption seemed to be germinating in the new ways of the regime.
As such, the book touches upon many issues – the lives of upper class during British rule, the accumulation of wealth, injustice to the poor, the sufferings of lower class during Partition, the role of women over the years, political situation, Indian family values, patriarchal society, the injustice meted out to people during Emergency, and so many others.
If one reads through the book purely as an Indian-English fiction, “Rich Like Us” does make an interesting at-least-one-time read.
The Wikipedia has presented the detailed literary analysis of the book, from different angles. Hence I would request a visit to that article for an in-depth analysis.