I finished reading “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar last night. It had been a while since I last read a South Asian book and I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to read one.
The book was about Bhima, a maid working for her Parsi mistress, Serabai. The story moves back and forth between present and past, Bhima’s as well as Serabai’s. The story goes back to when Bhima is accosted by Gopal, the man who she is going to marry and be very happy with, until an unfortunate event turns her entire life upside down. Bhima’s life after that is a series of blow after blow to her strength and determination. After the death of her daughter, Bhima must live for her only grand daughter and the story moves forward from there.
Meanwhile, Serabai has her own set of troubles to deal with. A happy person by nature, Sera is wooed over by Feroz Dubash who later marries her. Sera, whose life is supposed to be carefree, full of life and laughter- like her own mother’s- turns out to take a completely opposite path. Things that she imagined happened to illiterate women belonging to poor families, start happening to her. She realises in the process, the strength of her own loyalty towards her husband and her weakness when it comes to speaking up against him.
The lives of both women are a reflection of the women in India and Pakistan. Happiness to us comes from family, loyalty, love, our pride and relations. Take one of them away, and we start feeling lost and lacking. But our sorrows also come from the same sources; Family, loyalty, love, our pride and our relations. It is how each woman bends and moulds each source to her benefit that makes her a queen in her own home.
The book makes you wonder how the lives of these two women are any different from each other when they have both had more tragedies to deal with than an ordinary person can handle, and they have both managed to move through those tragedies with a determination and will power that you only read about in books. Did they draw strength from one another while Bhima worked for Serabai? Or was it just something in their nature that brought them closer and helped them see the silver lining behind each dark cloud?
There was a smooth flow to the story, making it very easy to read and hard to put down. The descriptions, the comparisons, the family life were all described in such fine detail that it was impossible not to be able to imagine exactly what everything looked and felt like. It was like watching a movie- a well made movie-with the thoughts and emotions of characters being spelled out.