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Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review : ‘The City of Palaces' by Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey’s ‘The City of Palaces’ is a lot of stories mixed into one. The story is Pom’s to begin with. Set in the British time, we are put through several lines of her life and how tragedy strikes, when she is left without a family. Orphaned, she roams around, until she ends up in a school where she is hired as a maid.

The best thing about the beginning of story was the Anita Desai touch I felt in the story of the village. Though both these stories have a similar base to them, yet when she does take Pom’s story away from Lila’s (from ‘The Village by the Sea’), she gives it a completely different touch. 

As Pom lands up at the school, she is made to pull the fans of a classroom and instead, she ends up learning English! The various classes, the lesson in prose and poetry teach her an odd hand, which would help her in the future. Pom or Sarah, since she is now a Christian, finds a friend of the past at the school. 

Bidushi was in her village and is also orphaned, yet she finds that she has an aunt and uncle to live with. She goes to them, but here she finds that she is living a closeted life, until the person she has to marry, a Pankaj Bandopadhyay who makes sure that she is at the school.

Pom and Bidushi become fast friends and Pom finds that she is better versed at English, and is meant to teach Bidushi. Bidushi asks her to write letters to Pankaj, since she does not find herself adept at it. Pankaj and Sarah, under the name of Bidushi find that they both enjoy writing to each other. Until, Bidushi is taken ill. Pankaj comes to see her, but only on her death bed.

Sarah is accused of stealing and she takes flight, with the help of Abbas, a kindly tonga driver at the school. She takes a train to Calcutta, but ends up in Midnapore, quite by mistake. As she is looking for something to do, one day she is chanced upon by Bonnie, an Anglo-Indian girl. Bonnie takes her under her wing.

Sarah or Pamela, as she is now known finds herself in a situation, which she cannot get out of. She is a prostitute in Rose Barker’s home. There are quite a few girls under Barker and she pays the girls under her charge.

She soon finds herself pregnant, and has a baby girl, Kabita. She promises herself that Kabita would not be put through the same circumstances, she finds herself in. She manages to put her under Abbas’ care and finds herself in Calcutta.

Here, she looks around for a job, with her English speaking skills. She soon finds one Simon Lewes, who is willing to pay her for organising his personal library. Lewes, who has no clue of her past life, is happy to find somebody, quite proficient at the job given to her. Known as Kamala Mukherjee, now she finds herself liking the job.

But it is here, where she rediscovers her first love, Pankaj who is now a lawyer. She is asked by him to spy on her boss, Lewes for he is working for the British in a high position. This she does, and also finds friends in a Bengali family. She also continues to send her daughter, the money she would need. She also finds herself unwillingly attracted to Lewes, who still remains a British loyalist. (This kind of reminds one of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but Passey has more to add to this story)

Stuck between these situations and the British getting ready to leave the nation, she has to make quick decisions. What happens now and what does she need to do to prevent anything bad to happen to Kabita, what could she do about her love for Simon and her love for the country is this historical fiction’s finish.

This piece with all its numerous research, its various novels and poetry, as well as the research books, which are all mentioned in the book and a part of the bibliography, as well has been done with an expert hand.

The flow in the language to put forward almost four different kinds of chunks into one solid book requires patience and an adroit hand, which this author had, alright. So, kudos to the author and her research.

Author: Sujata Massey
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143422976

Price: Rs 499/-

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