Rich Like Us – Nayantara Sahgal

Rich Like Us – A novel by Nayantara Sahgal

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.

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Author: ASHOK M VAISHNAV

In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

8 thoughts on “Rich Like Us – Nayantara Sahgal”

  1. I was’nt in India that time (I was in Tanzania) but have heard a lot about the atrocities committed, nails pulling, forced nas bandi, (remember quotas given to ministers etc.) Haji Mastan being jailed (Imagine) and off course the doings and undoings of Sanjay Gandhi and Rukhsana Sultana. I will look for this book in Auckland Libraries. They don’t seem to have “Between Assassinations’. Thanks for the wonderful review though.

    1. The novel does not have much about the social-politico eco-system of those days, except for some cursory narratives.
      So , except for using Emergency as only as background , the book is narrating more the story of women -having different backgrounds and placed under differing circumstances.

    2. May I repeat the relevant part of my reply to the comment by Shri Amit Chaturvedi, since that may inerest you:

      I recently had occasion to read “India After Gandhi” by Rmachandra Guha, a well-documented account of the [historical] events in the political history of post-Independence India. Here are a few interesting links:

      Democracy in practice K. N. PANIKKAR http://www.hindu.com/br/2007/06/19/stories/2007061950371400.htm

      The Invention Of India JAIRAM RAMESH http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?234670

      All in the Family By ISAAC CHOTINER http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/books/review/Chotiner-t.html?_r=1

      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi http://www.tomhull.com/ocston/books/guha-india.php

      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi (1/2) http://youtu.be/GXSEK9Mvqeg
      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi (2/2 http://youtu.be/HvM-d–1RhM

  2. historical events arise a lot of curiosity in me and the emergency being no exception. have been planning to read Kuldip Nayyar’s The Judgement for a long time now. lets see when does that happen!

    thanks for this post!

    1. Indeed, Kuldip Nayyar had maintained a very fine balance between expressing his own opinions and reporting the events as a journalist.

      I recently had occasion to read “India After Gandhi” by Rmachandra Guha, a well-documented account of the [historical] events in the political history of post-Independence India. Here are a few interesting links:

      Democracy in practice K. N. PANIKKAR http://www.hindu.com/br/2007/06/19/stories/2007061950371400.htm

      The Invention Of India JAIRAM RAMESH http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?234670

      All in the Family By ISAAC CHOTINER http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/books/review/Chotiner-t.html?_r=1

      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi http://www.tomhull.com/ocston/books/guha-india.php

      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi (1/2)

      Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi (2/2

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