Many Lives, Many Stories

Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar

In her debut, Thrity Umrigar succeeds at introducing her audience to not only the citizens of a Bombay apartment building, but to Bombay itself.  The plot of the novel is focused around the wedding reception of the son one of the apartment building, Wadia Baug’s, tenants, Mehernosh.  Broken down into ten chapters, each for the most part focusing on one member of the community and his/her past, the novel meanders through time as the night progresses.  Characters include the central protagonist, Rusi Bilimoria, and his wife, Coomi, the uninvited neighorhood gossip Dosamai, the wealthy and successful father of the groom, Jimmy Kanga, Soli Contractor, a lifelong bachelor prone who proves himself sensitive and wise as a result of a past betrayal, and Adi Patel, an alcoholic transplant who demonstrates the disparity in life experience between men and women.  All of these characters are artfully presented and comprise a poignant picture of middle class life in Bombay.  However, as the novel progresses, two additional characters emerge.  The first is the city of Bombay, described by Umrigar as the “City of savage love and savage hate” (26).  While the characters demonstrate this characteristic throughout the novel, the theme is not fully realized until the end.  As the reception is broken up by a homeless man who, tired of waiting for the party to end, throws a stone into the hall, hitting Sheroo.  This savage act sets off a chain reaction of additional savageries: Jimmy threatens to have the security guard fired, who, in a desperate attempt to keep his job “finds” the stone thrower and proceeds to beat him relentlessly.  Witnessing it all is Rusi, who demonstrates the converse of this scenario by ruminating on his daughter, Binny, whom he allowed to flee to England out of his love for her, despite the growing pain in his own life that results.  This novel was an absolute joy to read and I truly do feel as if I have gained a certain understanding not only of life in India, but in the human experience overall.

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