A middle-aged Delhi couple find themselves suddenly wealthy.
Mr. and Mrs. Jha are no longer young when they suddenly come into a great deal of money. Mr. Jha has sold a website he created. The money allows the Jhas to move from their East Delhi housing complex to Gurgaon, a much ritzier neighborhood, where each house has a gate, a guard, and sometimes a swimming pool. Mr. Jha throws himself into their new lifestyle, ordering a couch embedded with Swarovski crystals (which turns out to be as uncomfortable as it sounds). Mrs. Jha, meanwhile, can’t convince herself to use the new hot showers, preferring instead to stick with the bucket and mug she’s used to. In the meantime, the Jhas’ son, Rupak, is studying for his MBA in New York. His parents don’t know it yet, but he’s failing his classes. Worse, he’s trying to balance two women: Indian Serena, who rather resembles his mother; and blonde, American Elizabeth, whom Rupak can’t imagine fitting in to his Indian life. Basu’s debut novel is a funny, deceptively light treatment of money and manners in modern-day Delhi. Mr. Jha suffers from a bad case of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses—though in this case it’s the Chopras next door, and they’ve gone so far as to have a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel installed in their foyer ceiling. Then, too, there’s Mrs. Ray, a young widow from the Jhas’ old neighborhood who is soon thrown together with Mr. Chopra’s well-to-do brother, with predictable results. Basu manages these various storylines well, and her writing is sincere. But at times the humor feels forced, strained. Each of the characters is flawed, but those flaws seem to elicit pity rather than sympathy. At a certain point, their moneyed lives don’t seem as funny as they do alienating and sad. There’s something unsettling about all this that the ending does nothing to assuage, though it seems to want to.
The humor seems strained in this comedy of errors, manners, and money.