Second-novelist Syal (Anita and Me, 1997) offers another foray into the world of British-born Indians, this time a trio of women attempting to break the oppressive bonds of their culture.
Tania, Sunita, and Chila have been friends since their London childhood, and the patterns of that friendship have continued into their adult lives. Tania the playground brawler has grown into a cold beauty whose success as a filmmaker compensates for the rift with her family. Sunita began college as a socialist, a feminist, and a punk law-student but ended her university days by failing her exams and marrying. Chila, her innocence always protected by the other two, steadfastly clung to a traditional role and finally married in her 30s. Spanning the two years after Chila's wedding to the wealthy Deepak, the story traces the three women’s blossoming independence, achieved by all with a heavy dash of personal anguish. When Tania makes a documentary on relationships, she includes Chila and Sunita, but the results are less than pleasing: the film exposes Chila as simpering and obedient, then displays the frost that has developed between Sunita and her husband. Aired on national television, the documentary severs the friendship—as does the fact that Tania is spied in a passionate embrace with Deepak—but it also provides a catalyst for all three women: Sunita loses weight and goes back to school; Chila, now pregnant, begins dreaming of the possibilities of an independent life; and Tania starts a slow journey back to her roots.
Though the people drive the plot, it is Syal’s exploration of traditional gender roles—and the difficulty of escaping them without rejecting one's heritage—that provides the center of this fine, well-crafted tale.