Poverty & hope often go hand in hand. Humans, I believe, are programmed to fight till their last breath, and what drives them is the possibility of a better future, a miracle that could turn their lives around. So when the possibilities start seeming limited, we move on to what we believe are wider horizons, with the conviction that a fresh start is all it takes to reach out for our dreams. While sometimes the dreams come true, at other times, we move from dream to dream, each new one easier to achieve than the last.
Tarlochan, or Tochi, is a Chamaar, a caste treated as lowly untouchables back home in India. With much struggle he finds himself a job as an auto-rickshaw driver. Just as he finds the way to provide his family all the little joys they had been deprived of and get himself the dignity he craves, fate cruelly pulls him back and slams a mountain of sorrow and pain for life. Siblings Randeep & Lakhpreet Sanghera should have had a comfortable lifestyle with their father employed with the government. But with their father slowly losing his mind, young Randeep must now bear the burden of supporting his entire family. Avtar has big dreams for his life with his girlfriend and he is working hard towards that goal. But he must pay the price for his straying friend, the boss’s son, and is left job-less.
All of them set out for England, in search of a better life, and end up in a house shared by 13 in Sheffield. With each passing day the sheen is lost bit by bit and soon the grim realities of life as an immigrant are laid bare. Meals become fights for scraps. Jobs are scarce and the competition breeds mistrust among the occupants of the house and more often than not, even homesickness in a foreign land or the understanding of common fears, cannot make them leave behind the prejudices from back home. Dark secrets are hidden, confided in and exploited as the characters grow meaner and meaner in their struggle to reach for the goals, that once seemingly achievable, are now increasingly out of reach. Narinder, meanwhile, a pious Sikh woman trying to do good, gets unrevokably intertwined with the lives of these men and slowly her once simple life gets more and more complicated as she tries to understand her duties to herself and God. The character’s lives are soon spiraling out of control and drawn into their worlds, all we can do is watch.
Sunjeev Sahota is simply brilliant as he moves you back and forth between time and characters. So compelling is the writing that, as the desperation of the character grows, so does the helplessness of the reader..if only one could reach out and stop a character from taking a step in a glaringly wrong direction! No compromise is made in the portrayal of the characters’ backgrounds, the dreams of their youth crushed at no fault of theirs, their endless struggle to fulfill familial obligations while always trying to making it big in life..so much so that the reader begins empathizing with their actions, no matter how wrong. Sahota’s work is a big reality check of the lives immigrants have to face, very different from the hunky-dory picture we paint of life outside. A powerfully engrossing read that keeps you hooked for more, there is no questioning its shortlisting for the ‘2015 Man Booker prize’. The only complaint I have is the epilogue, hastily thrown in to show us life many years later, which left a bad aftertaste. Some things are better left unsaid. For all other reasons, this book is a great read, both for the intriguing story and the impeccable style!
My Rating : 4/5