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Urban dreams

Jul 21, 2013 :

Many have written about the class divide in India, but only a few, like Lavanya Sankaran’s ‘Hope Factory’, have managed to capture the aspirations of these classes, writes Vani MAhesh.

Lavanya Sankaran’s Hope Factory is a good story simply told. Anand is the owner of Cauvery Auto, a small-scale car part manufacturing factory. The novel begins with Anand and his small staff gearing up to woo a Japanese investor.

This being their first ever brush with an International client, team Anand, a motley crew of efficient, faithful long timers, is duly excited. They work in a frenzy to put up a good show, fully aware that clinching this deal will upgrade their lives — “At 6 pm, Mr Ananthamurthy, Mrs Padmavati, and Kamath assembled in his office, a collective air of exhaustion about them. They had done all they could; tomorrow was in the hands of the gods”.

Then there is Anand’s own nervousness about the meeting — having to look confident and amiable at the same time to the suave investors — “On the drive home, Anand found himself rehearsing parts of the speech that he would be making the following day. ‘Welcome’ he said, to the steering wheel. He fell prey to his usual insecurities and wished that he had certain natural advantages: of height, a better speaking voice, the ability to size up people at a glance...”

This opening scene forms a backdrop for the rest of the story. Cauvery Auto has to expand if it is to cater to a larger International clientele. A major hurdle for expansion is the high price of industrial land. However, Anand is determined not to let land be a hindrance to his progress. He is bent on acquiring it, at any cost and means. The crux of this novel revolves around the mild-mannered, fair-minded Anand’s wheelings and dealings with the sleazy real estate agents and land grabbers. The author weaves her research on the political dynamics of land grabbing seamlessly into the story.

The novel has well etched out characters that stay in the reader’s mind. There is Anand’s wife Vidya — a whimsical wannabe socialite who does nothing more than order around the household help and indulge in fancy parties with friends. Then there is Harry Chinnappa, Anand’s father-in-law, who till date disapproves of his daughter’s choice of husband. He is convinced that Anand is beneath him in every way.

He seldom misses a chance to take pot-shots at Anand, especially at his less than perfect English — “ It’s ‘Veg-t-bil’ not ‘vegie-table’. There is no ‘table’ in the word. And your daughter likes to play with ‘Don-ild’ Duck, not ‘Don-ald’ Duck.” With this, the author subtly brings to attention the meaningless derision of the uppity at Indian English.

The novel has another rather unusual protagonist, Kamalamma, who is Anand’s household help. Being widowed young, her only hope in life is her son Narayan. She constantly worries about educating and grooming him, since a well secured future for him is their only ticket out of poverty. The author juxtaposes the stories of Anand and Kamalamma to portray the aspirations of people, both rich and poor. While Anand aspires growth for a professional victory, Kamalamma dreams big only to end her poverty.
Kamalamma is a mirror of our society where the poor have to struggle hard for even basic amenities. The book provides a good socio-political commentary on Bangalore through different people and varied perspectives.

Sankaran’s narrative is skillful. When a story involves non-English speaking characters, there is always the issue of translating native language conversations to English. Most often writers resort either to large doses of colloquia or use grammatically incorrect sentences. Kudos to the writer for not having done either! She has used a simple, concise and vivid language, which does not seem artificial even when you know the domestic help are not actually conversing in English.

Lately, we have seen a number of books that are centred around Bangalore. Crime novels like Anita Nair’s Cut Like Wound, and Zac O’Yeah’s Mr Majestic, social fiction like Anjum Hasan’s Neti Neti, anthologies like Multiple City edited by Aditi De, each bring out a different facet of Bangalore. This book is a good value-add to the set. The author, having grown up in the city, brings out Bangalore from the perspective of a long time resident.
The characters and situations in the book are what any Bangalorean can easily relate to.

On the other hand, if someone is looking to understand the socio-cultural aspects of Bangalore, the book more than satisfies the need. Though the story seems a little slow initially, it hooks on fast. This is a book you would want to curl up with after a day’s work.


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