Some stories are so simple and come from such small places that they leave you mesmerized. The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa is one such story. I am really amazed at how good this book was! I wasn’t expecting anything even close to this. The Sari Shop brought forth subtly and effortlessly the class differences rampant in society and how it acts out in people’s lives. The narrative is beautiful and well-paced, taking its time to lay out the background and then raising up the suspense.
Ramchand is a 26 year old simple man working in a sari shop in Amritsar. Through his work, he meets a large number of women from the upper class of the city – wives and daughters of prominent businessmen, professionals, academics, and so on. Stuck in a monotonous job after a rough childhood, Ramchand doesn’t see any end to his misery and inner self-loathing. Sevak Sari House, colleagues at the sari shop, dinner at dhabas and a beautiful neighbor’s daily activities keep him company in his misery. But one day, his luck changes when he’s asked to deliver a bunch of saris to a wealthy man (Kapoors) of Amritsar whose daughter is getting married..
Suitably impressed, the luxury of the Kapoor home gives Ramchand the motivation to brush up on his long-forgotten English and hope revives that he would be able to do something more in life than just sell saris. But things don’t work out that way since English is not the only thing his brief contact with the Kapoors expose him to.
Another major character in the book is Kamla, who has come from a small town to the north of Amritsar. She is married to a colleague of Ramchand and after his visit to the Kapoors, he gets inextricably involved in Kamla’s life, despite not knowing her at all.
The story depicts the stark contrast of life in the city where people like the wealthy Kapoors live cheek by jowl with people like Ramchand, who pretty much lives in a despair situation. However, while the Kapoors wrestle with their first world problems, the consequences of their struggles are directly felt by the poor section of the society.
The book also deals with class feminism and its hypocrisy. When it comes to feminism, many middle- and upper-class women don’t consider poor women a part of the movement. While a Kapoor girl is rightly encouraged to make more of herself than just a wife and homemaker, someone like Kamla is considered utter filth and indecent, unworthy of mixing with ‘decent’ people.
The Sari Shop is by the common people for the common people. Till now, I haven’t come across a book so simple yet so beautiful, a story so powerful that needs to be read and shared more. We come across people like Ramchand on a daily basis, our home servants, drivers, gardeners etc. But never we look at them from a different perspective, never we pay heed to their dreams and aspirations. But after reading The Sari Shop, I will look at them from a different set of eyes.
A beautiful thing about The Sari Shop is Rupa Bajwa’s flawless and bold writing. The language is simple yet powerful, and a beautiful story with a well-paced narrative, and well-developed characters. This would easily be one of the best books I have read in 2019!
All in all, The Sari Shop is a story that you should definitely read.
My Rating : 4/5