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Book Review: The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

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. A simple man, working in a Sari Shop in Amritsar decides to give his monotonous and failing life another chance . But in the end, gives up when all his efforts come spiraling down. A simple yet powerful read, not many writers can pull off a combination like this. But Rupa Bajwa pulled it off effortlessly.

The Sari Shop revolves around Ramchand, a tired shop assistant at Sevak Sari House who spends his days showing all kinds of saris to different sects of women, one sect that can afford silk sarees and the other one who would love to but finalize cotton saris for themselves at the end of the day.

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 of Amritsar whose daughter is getting married.

Just as Ramchad enters the Kapoor abode, he is jolted out of his monotonous, narrow life. A glimpse into a different world which he witnessed at Kapoor’s house, gives him the motivation to work towards endless possibilities. And with this motivation, he attempts to recapture what he has lost before, his dreams of finishing his education and having a good career. He starts with two battered English grammar books, an old English dictionary, a new pair of socks and a bar of lifebuoy soap.

But then his feeble attempt towards a new life spirals his life upside down. It brings him face to face with the cruelties that lead him to this misery in the first place. A battered Ramchand falls down to the same place from where he dreamt of better things for himself. In the end, The Sari Shop shares a very stark reality of urban living and turns into a simple story which has a powerful message.

The Sari Shop is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Ramchand and his progress towards a better life. Rupa Bajwa’s unpretentious writing makes you walk alongside Ramchand on his journey and even makes you disheartened on his failures. The first part also shows the stark comparison of urban India amidst Amritsar. From hypocrites like Mrs. Sandhu to the westernized and educated Mrs. Sachdeva, the characters are in full color in The Sari Shop.

The second part of the book introduces you to Kamla, Ramchand’s colleague Chander’s wife who shows the other side of atrocities, draped in exquisite Banarsi saris. Kamla, like Ramchand, wanted a better life but instead got everything that she never wanted. An alcoholic husband who beats her black and blue every night while blaming her for his failure, including a miscarriage. Kamla takes up the bottle for solace but ends up being raped by policemen and burnt to the ground by a gang of thugs, hired by the right and superior people of the society.

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 flow of the story is straight. Though in some areas you might feel that the story is a bit dragged, especially the first part, but it can be ignored. Some of the readers might expect the “masala level” to be good, but I am sorry to inform it is not like that. The Sari Shop is too simple for some readers and they might think it is boring till they arrive at the second part. But then, for me this is a book that introduced me to another brilliant writer, Rupa Bajwa. 
All in all, The Sari Shop is a story that you should definitely read.

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