Class Consciousness in Indian Society, A Novel

Madhuri Vijay, The Far Field
Publisher: Grove Press

The Far Field, a novel by Madhuri Vijay

If you’re looking for a well-developed critique of Indian class prejudice, you will undoubtedly appreciate this novel’s engaging plunge into the depths of political upheaval in Kashmir.  Shalini, the narrator and protagonist, tells the story of her mother and Bashir Ahmed, a salesman whose disappearance from their lives leads to Shalini’s journey from Bangalore, where she is  a privileged daughter of a factory owner, to a remote Himalayan village in northern Kashmir where she finds her place among the powerless family of Bashir Ahmed.

The plot is engaging and the narration is deftly constructed as we take the journey with Shalini.  Despite the measured prose and carefully drawn characters, I had to force myself to finish the book because I simply couldn’t connect to these characters.  Shalini’s journey becomes futile as it does not do anything but satisfy her longing for closure of a childhood memory. In the meantime, it is clear that she is out of place and her presence in the village eventually makes life even more difficult for the family of Bashir Ahmed.  While her relationship with her mother is complicated and takes up the first part of the book, we don’t really ever know why her mother is such a hateful, complicated person. There are hints, but nothing definitive. Equally puzzling is the attraction between Shalini’s mother and Bashir Ahmed.  Were they lovers? What did she see in him? In the end, my conclusion was that both Shalini and her mother were attracted to the plight of people like Bashir Ahmed, and while their lives intersected, they were not able to improve the lives of their impoverished Kashmiri friends.

Perhaps all the pity and concern in the world can’t change political realities and in this novel, the truth of this is made painfully clear.  All in all, I wanted to like this book because the writing is really engaging, but like Shalini, I came away disappointed and frustrated with the inevitability of defeat in this class-conscious society.

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