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Book Review: Home by Manju Kapur

A saga of a joint Indian family, Home by Manju Kapur is pretty different from her other books. Till now, I’ve only read immigrant stories from Kapur. Home was a fresh change for me, where the author has explored depths of an Indian traditional family, based in the famous Karol Bagh of Delhi. But what makes Home so unique and pleasing in a surprising way?

Banwari Lal, the head of the family comes to India after partition, broken in spirit. With the help of his wife’s jewelry, he opens a sari business in Karol Bagh which becomes a life turning point for him. The sari shop becomes his only goal and dream, and he wants to witness it reach new heights, but not at family’s cost.

In the initial years, he is forced to marry off his daughter Sunita to a man of confusing character. On one hand, he is loving and hospitable towards his in-laws. On the other hand, he is an abusive husband. Even as the family gets richer, Sunita’s ordeal seems no end, ultimately leading to her death, which may have been a murder only. Only a son is left behind, Vicky, to be taken in by Banwari Lals and the responsibility comes on Sona, their daughter in law who cannot have children of her own

Vicky becomes a bone of contention for the family, hence being ignored and rejected by Sona. Though a doting grandfather, Banwari Lal feels guilty to what happened to his daughter. His sons and their growing family cannot make space for Vicky.

Years go by, and one-day Banwari Lal passes away. 1980’s, the family is rife with tensions, With the death of Banwari Lal, the shop is now being modernized to live up to the modern times of ready made salwar kameez and jeans, and even the house is now being transformed into a bunch of self-contained flats. Each member bears the brunt of the family tensions, especially Yashpal and Sona’s daughter Nisha, making home a site of emotional manipulation and sexual abuse.

Kapur’s previous novels for me have always dominated the immigrant world. And Home was a really fresh change for me. The previous novels have been good when it comes to women despising other women for their personal reason, and in Home to Kapur has lived up to the expectation. This, in turn, made the novel even more relatable to the Indian audience especially as we have seen such families around us, or kids from such families hanging out with us with their own set of restrictions.

I also loved how Kapur, this time gave a more meaningful voice to the male characters, something that I didn’t come across in her previous work. I really loved the whole joint family and business setting, wherein apart from home, members of the family are always together, even when they are snacking on lip smacking samosa and chutneys during their evening break and the Sari Shop.

“All day the Banwari Lal men nibbled something. Mid-morning snack, evening snack, feeling stressed snack, visitor snack. They worked long hours, six days a week. Their pleasures lay in discussing what to eat, in anticipation as the order was sent out, in the stimulation of the olfactory senses as the packets unfolded, in the camaraderie of sharing. They unwound over fresh, crisp kachoris with imli chutney …

Home has the tendency to carry its readers along with it. It has tender humor, which keeps you light when you are reading it. I also really admired the way Delhi’s middle-class English has been used by Home’s characters. However, the only thing that I wasn’t able to digest was the climax. I was expecting that Nisha may turn out to be a successful independent woman, but instead was the complete opposite of it. This was one small disappointment for me in the overall entertaining novel.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh change of Manju Kapur’s writing via Home. Make sure to read this one if you are an ardent fan of Kapur’s work.

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