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Time / Space Interspersed

Dipavali Debroy

By Nergis Dalal
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2005, pp. 301, Rs. 250.00


This book made such compulsive reading that I found myself reading it in bed by torchlight when the power went off. For many years I had not identified so much with a character that was, after all, fictional. All those who are “plump and plain”, branded as “the brains”, and taught to seek comfort in the idea that beauty is only skin deep, will empathize with Naaz Jussawalla, the heroine of this autobiographical novel. The book is like several diaries put together with the years mixed up. It intersperses time and place and throws much information or observation into narration. Zoroastrian, Christian and Hindu perceptions are juxtaposed, Hyderabadi ways are depicted, as well as those of Delhi, Varanasi and Dehra Dun. The mixture is not orderly or sequential, but deft and clever.   Naaz Jussawala has a Parsi father and an English mother. She has a twin sister named Yasmin, who is so pretty that she renders Naaz almost “invisible” in her childhood and youth. Yasmin is also teasing and mischievous, and sensitive Naaz gets deeply wounded by her pranks. Her grandmother however understands Naaz and prepares her in some sense to be independent and able to handle money on her own. Yasmin, ill-advised by the mother, makes an unfortunate marriage which ends in widowhood and poverty. Grandmother dies, leaving most of her enormous wealth to Naaz, disappointing everybody else, including her own son. Thus emancipated, Naaz sets up in Delhi on her own. She meets Ramesh, a young architect from a Punjabi middle-class background, and falls in love enough to be willing to pay a price for him. As a condition for his parents’ consent, she provides the huge dowry for his sister’s marriage. Naaz does not go to live with her parents-in-law, but gets along with them well. The sister, a little retarded, however ends up as an instance of bride-burning.   Naaz feels well-settled and has twins of her own – boys, who inherit the delicate looks of their grandparents and thus resemble their aunt more than their mother. Ramesh, aided variously by Naaz, makes his mark in the world as an architect, although developing a heart condition in the process.   Yasmin makes a re-entry into Nazz’s life. Within days, Naaz finds her husband lost to Yasmin. The time comes when he asks her for a divorce. But Naaz has had time to think about how to defend ...

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