Saraswati Park – Anjali Joseph

Saraswati Park is a suburb of Bombay, a quiet one where life goes on. This is where the two main characters of this book, Mohan and his nephew Ashish live work and study respectively. Mohan is a letter writer someone who sits outside the GPO who will write letters, correspondence, fill in forms, cheques, telegrams for people who cannot. But this is a dying art and he is one of the remaining. This does not pay the bills; Mohan has another income for that but it does allow him to indulge in daydreams about writing, about reading second hand books and enjoying learning. Mohan likes books where someone has written notes in, which have wide margins so he can add to the story.

Ashish is the complete opposite of his uncle, reading has become his nemesis. Forced to retake his final year at college because of his lack of attendance, his parents having to move away felt it would be better if he lived with his uncle, Mohan and his wife. So Ashish spends his time at college, but you get the feeling this is secondary to his struggle to find his place in the world not just in this little suburb but further afield. The help of a tutor broadens his horizons and he becomes involved in something secretive and risky at times.

Joseph has written a beautiful novel about two male characters who are trying to struggle with life, Ashish’s is the new life ahead, Mohan’s is the life he has led and what is remaining. Mohan’s wife, Lakshmi is to me a mere secondary character, and one I felt a lot for, she is greatly unappreciated she exists solely on being domesticated and her love of TV soap operas. Lakshmi does know there is a world outside of this suburb and suddenly in rather sadder circumstances she gets away for a period. This upset causes both Mohan and Ashish to take a look at the path of their lives and perhaps changes need to be made, whilst some things remain a constant. It was an interesting concept to put the female character Lakshmi into the background and writing from the point of view of a man.

The descriptions, take you right to the hustle and bustle of the centre of Bombay, the smells, the sights and the description of where the letter writers hawk their trade immediately draws you in to another world. Having recently read a book about India in the past and then more about the opulent higher class than the average working man, this book is a refreshing change. It is very slow and meandering, and if you think you are going to get a book of twists and turns then you will be disappointed. Nothing was a surprise; it was just a reflection of life quite simply observed.

I did wonder about this book many a time when I picked it up to read, probably because you would not call it a page turner in the sense of anticipation, twists, turns and dark secrets. This was a book pure and simple. It reminded me so much of the Persephone books which I have only just discovered this year. Beautifully written with plenty of scope for discussion, the only difference being the two protagonists in this book were male, the female character, Lakshmi was background. I would  be interested to hear from anyone else who hs read this book. It was one of the books I risked in the now gone 3 for 2 in Waterstones, being attracted by the cover I am so glad I did, as the book is still with me now.