Bajwa, Rupa 1976-
BAJWA, Rupa 1976-
PERSONAL: Born 1976, in Amritsar, India.
ADDRESSES: Home—Amritsar, India. Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton & Co., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110-0017.
The Sari Shop (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A second novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Rupa Bajwa's first novel, The Sari Shop, follows the life of assistant sari-salesman Ramchand. Ramchand was orphaned as a boy, and his uncle stole his inheritance and sent him out to work when he was fifteen. Ramchand still holds the same position at the Sevak Sari House when the story opens, when he is aged twenty-six. This shop is considered one of the best in the city of Amritsar and is frequented by many upper-class women. They pay no attention to Ramchand as he rolls and unrolls saris for them, so he overhears much conversation and gossip. He is similarly ignored when he is called upon to make a delivery to the house of the Kapoors, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the city, but what he sees there makes an impression upon him nonetheless. The wide, shady streets are a far cry from the crowded old city where Ramchand lives and works, and although he understands little of the conversation that occurs in the English-speaking Kapoor household, what he does hear fascinates him. He resolves to try to improve his lot in life, buying new socks, vowing to take better care of his own and his room's appearance, and attempting to learn English from several books bought at a second-hand shop. "Ramchand's campaign of self-improvement, using a seemingly random selection of books"—including The Complete Letter Writer, a guide for upper-class Britons wishing to use proper manners when composing invitations and the like to their peers—"is hugely comical," Nick Dastoor wrote in the Glasgow Herald, "yet revealing of the peculiarities of colonial legacies."
"Up to this point, the novel seems to be a winning satire," Ligaya Mishan commented in the New York Times Book Review, "full of subtle, swift barbs as Bajwa lets her characters hang themselves in their own chatter." However, the tale soon turns darker, when Bajwa moves from skewering the upper classes as foolish to exposing the cruel and sometimes violent ways in which they oppress those below them. Ramchand is sent upon another errand, this time to a poor coworker's house. He discovers the man beating his wife, Kamla. The woman has been poorly treated for much of her life, and this poverty and oppression has left her drunk, bitter, and mentally unstable. In this state she insults the Kapoors, a large mistake for a woman of her status, and is made to pay for it with her life. Some critics thought that this violent ending clashes with the tone of the rest of the book, but as a reviewer noted on DesiJournal.com, "Bajwa's subtle commentary on class in India will stick with the reader long after the melodrama dies down." However, London Daily Telegraph reviewer Kate Morrison had a different perspective, claiming that "Bajwa writes best when she is communicating the bald repugnance of what happens to Kamla."
The detailed and character-driven nature of Bajwa's writing has been praised by many reviewers. "Each person Ramchand meets and interacts with is fully fleshed out, from his colleagues to his clients," Jaya Banerji wrote on the Asian Review of Books Online, while Guardian reviewer Rachel Hore declared: "All praise to the author that the changes [in Ramchand's life] are character-led." Hindustan Times critic Sushmita Bose concluded that "Bajwa shows a remarkable felicity with words, tautness in narration and this great ability to get under the skin of her characters."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of The Sari Shop, p. 1596.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 1, 2004, Kate Morrison, review of The Sari Shop.
Deccan Herald (Bangalore, India), June 27, 2004, review of The Sari Shop.
Guardian (London, England), April 3, 2004, Rachel Hore, review of The Sari Shop.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), March 13, 2004, Nick Dastoor, review of The Sari Shop, p. 7.
Hindustan Times, May 1, 2004, Sushmita Bose, review of The Sari Shop.
Independent (London, England), April 9, 2004, Aamer Hussein, review of The Sari Shop, p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of The SariShop, p. 283.
Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Faye A. Chadwell, review of The Sari Shop, p. 118.
New York Times Book Review, June 20, 2004, Ligaya Mishan, review of The Sari Shop, p. 22; June 27, 2004, review of The Sari Shop, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 2004, review of The SariShop, p. 44.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 29, 2004, David Horspool, review of The Sari Shop, p. 53.
Times Literary Supplement, April 23, 2004, Chitralekha Basu, review of The Sari Shop, p. 21.
Tribune (Chandigarh, India), May 30, 2004, "Rupa on the Verge of Stardom."
Asian Review of Books Online,http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/ (May 23, 2004), Jaya Banerji, review of The Sari Shop.
DesiJournal.com,http://www.desijournal.com/ (September 13, 2004), review of The Sari Shop.
MostlyFiction.com,http://mostlyfiction.com/ (August 22, 2004), Mary Whipple, review of The Sari Shop.
Penguin Books India Web site,http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/ (September 13, 2004), "Rupa Bajwa."
South-Asian.com,http://www.the-south-asian.com/ (June, 2004), Sanjay Austa, review of The Sari Shop.*