A collection that chronicles the deep chasms in contemporary Bombay.
The author credits Bombay’s (officially dormant) social caste system as a source of inspiration for the book. In the title story, the low-class appearance and background of her manservant convince the aging wife of a prominent soldier that he plans to rob and kill her. In “Meter Down,” the taxi driver waiting in front of a hotel eschews students and other natives in favor of foreign businessmen; they’re the kind of customers he can swindle for the best fares and tips. Bombay’s sordid underbelly is also revealed. “The Maalishwalla,” for example, follows the thoughts of a masseur on Chowpatty Beach who is so desperate to make money (so he can return to his bride in his home village) that he feels unable to do anything about the man he sees aggressively pestering an unwilling prostitute. “The Queen Guards Her Own” explores the loving relationship between a retired horseman and a prostitute’s child, whom he vows to keep from the same fate as her mother. The contrast between tradition and modernity within the city is another subject. In “Dhobi Ghat,” a long-standing community of launderers (dhobis) meets to discuss their financial woes after many of their customers have switched to electric washing machines. “Traffic” finds a privileged Bollywood producer contemplating a bygone love affair, painfully aware that her society considers it a shame that she is still alone on her 27th birthday. Shroff’s narration is consistently clear-voiced; his focused setting and carefully chosen themes give the collection a strong structure.
Stories as engaging and complicated as the city to which they pay homage.