This is an elegantly written book about life in upper-crust Adyar, (Chennai) where the jasmine flowers flourish, and ritual, dance and music go hand-in-hand with the routine chores of bringing up children, and running a house. The servants are often sharply delineated in their various jobs, each with a clear identity, with language as the only real mediating force between those who serve and those who are served. Men and women have sharp divisions between them in terms of the visible duties of office, and the concentrated routines of kitchen, cleanliness and child care. Modernism does not infiltrate this divide, the segmentalization seems total, and the women are burdened more heavily. In this world, looking in, one sees that women are loved for just that, for being mothers and wives, and while conjugal love may seem diminished by prioritizing house and children, the men expect it, demand it, and will brook no question. The protagonist’s mother says to her very tellingly, ‘Look at me, I married a philosopher.
You tell me, in all these years how many stimulating, intellectual conversations did we have? Mostly, your father would complain about ants on the dining table or why his dinner was not ready on time’ (p. 211).
Underlying the tedium of the days, and the regret at giving up a creative career as a dancer to bring up her son, (while the father of the child slogs at his job in France without a backward look or a full sentence of enquiry for his family) the protagonist writes these lovely lines, explaining the nature of the suburb of the wealthy living by the sea;