Reshma, Leela and Juhi, three young women, living and working in Bangalore. Leela is a young single mother determined to raise her daughter well. Fresh recruit Juhi is trying to escape her provincial town, her poverty and her sordid past. Reshma a hotshot young executive, is trying to make her own place under the sun. Working on a campaign, the three women come closer to form a sisterhood of sorts. Until the day Bangalore drowns, and a person is found dead.
“Girls and The City” spoke to me on so many levels. As a young woman, I too had lived and worked independently in Bangalore. A college friend had a house just like Mrs Rao’s on 100 feet road. The mention of Indiranagar brought back memories of hanging out in coffee shops there. The book made me go back to when I was 21, and Bangalore was the city of my dreams. A city where I was alone but determined to work hard and earn money, just like the three young women.
“Girls and The City” feels very real. More and more young women are stepping out to work in India. Yet, there has been almost no change in the patriarchal mindset of society. Mrs Rao, Leela’s landlord, still doesn’t accept single mothers or overnight male guests. And young, nubile new female employees are still fair game for lecherous bosses. The encounter of Juhi with the roadside stalker is scary and yet, eerily familiar. This and other forms of harassment are commonplace for most women. The investigation of the murder running in the background with Inspector Ponappa offers a clear view of the misogyny deeply ingrained in our society. A woman could be educated and financially independent, but will still have to face blatant sexism, both at work and at home.
What stood out for me in the book was the camaraderie between Reshma, Leela and Juhi. The interactions between the three young women have been captured perfectly by the author. It is a mix of friendship, support, understanding of each other’s struggles, stirred with a tinge of admiration for each other. Each girl has her own struggles and demons to overcome, but they also have to face society head-on together. Reshma and Leela are strong, confident, modern young women. (In fact, Reshma felt like a junior copy of Niki Nalwa from “Radiance of a thousand splendid suns”). It was Jyoti’s character that I found complex. Juhi is not privileged, and she struggles daily to succeed. Juhi’s daily grind and frustration to make the pennies stretch is understandable. (I too, have struggled with BMC buses and jostled for space with other girls in a PG.) However, Jyoti portrays ambition and the will to succeed. There are shades of grey in Juhi’s character, and one might not condone all her actions, yet, she is neither hesitant nor apologetic for her desire to succeed.
A taut, fast-paced novel, “Girls and the City” is a reflection of India’s society straddling the modern with the age-old practices. Sexual harassment, misogyny, patriarchy, environmental disasters all find a place in this book.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon for August,2021.