“In present-day Bombay, Bhima leaves her slum each day to work as a domestic in a wealthy widow’s home. She has faithfully served this woman, Sera Dubash, for decades and prides herself on caring for the family. Sera is an upper-middle-class Parsi, but her social status has not protected her from an abusive husband and mother-in-law. In Sera’s home Bhima has witnessed the intimate details of the family’s life, and cared for Sera’s injuries; in return Sera has helped Bhima deal with the hospital when her husband was injured, and is paying for Bhima’s granddaughter, Maya, to attend college. What Bhima doesn’t fully realize, however, is that she remains an outsider to the Dubash family. An unplanned pregnancy will shatter the illusions of both women.
The two women at the core of the novel share one very important characteristic – blindness. The beautifully dressed, elegant and graceful Sera does not want to see the truth of her husband’s cruelty or the despair of Bhima’s life. Bhima, a stoic illiterate, does not see that her blind faith in this family she “loves” is not returned. Time and again she fails to recognize the reality of her situation until it is too late. Intimately connected over time with one another, neither one of them truly sees the yawning chasm that separates them.
There are scenes of tenderness, love, joy and happiness which give the reader occasional relief, but the novel is at times emotionally difficult to read. I am appalled at the treatment both these women endure: Sera because she cannot face the shame and humiliation of admitting to anyone that her husband beats her; Bhima because her lack of education and status make her such an easy target for anyone more powerful (and virtually everyone she encounters is more powerful than she). My heart breaks for both these women, and at the end I am not sure which I am more worried about.