Through a series of connected vignettes, Altaf Tyrewala reveals the face of modern day India. All the action takes place in or near the bustling, poverty-riddled city of Mumbai (Bombay), with an eclectic cast of characters who embody the confusion and dissension of post-Colonial India.
Unexpectedly intriguing, the fifty loosely connected narratives begin at the abortionist’s office and conclude there as well, each story revealing the terrible realities of survival in such a place. This is a city defined by opposition, religious and political differences exacerbated by the ubiquitous and demeaning poverty that stamps the entire region with roiling hatreds and dissatisfactions.
Poverty is the enemy of the thousands of industrious workers, slum-dwellers, street people, sycophants and unemployed masses, each small world pushed and pulled by those who intrude by the sheer force of their numbers. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists - every denomination is thrust into proximity with those they detest, divided by beliefs, loyalties, tradition, financial and social status, a constant jockeying for position.
Traversing the streets, we learn the aspirations of those who leave their homes each day, bustling to and from their jobs, avoiding the ubiquitous and unavoidable poverty. Although the vignettes sound familiar in the monotonous rhythms of common complaints, they are as varied as the people who search for identity and safety among the many.
These characters are vastly different, individual, though all are possessed with an urge for security. More interesting are the pervasive hints of hopefulness: always another idea or opportunity, one more chance to try something else, an endless application of resources in pursuit of problem-solving.
The theme “tomorrow is another day” imbues these disparate tales with a consistent hum of energy, the city itself the main protagonist, drawing all to her center like the sun. The threads connecting the stories are as fragile as the individuals caught in the crossroads of their particular histories, moving from scene to scene, rat-infested slums, swinging singles bars, an abortionist’s sterile office.
Everywhere the streets teem with the subtle urgencies of a population driven to survive the unexpected emergencies of daily life, brief moments of triumph sufficient to sustain most until another day. This small, rambling novel is compelling, the city filled with a spirit of inventiveness, embracing, destroying and sustaining those randomly cast at fate’s door.