Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rich Like Us by Nayantara Sahgal

Title: Rich Like Us
Author: Nayantara Sahgal
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 301
Genre: Political fiction
Rating: 7 out of 10

Set in New Delhi, ‘Rich Like Us’ by Nayantara Sahgal traces the story of 2 women – Sonali & Rose – against the backdrop of Emergency. The story also travels into past, briefly touching upon several issues like social injustice, after-effects of Partition, practice of Sati, plight of lower classes, etc.

Rose, a British national, finds herself in an affair with an Indian businessman Ram, who she later finds out, is married and had a toddler son. Nevertheless, she decides to follow him to India; and spend the rest of her life as his second wife sharing the household with his first wife Mona. Along the way, she gets close to Mona and also wins over Ram’s father Lalaji. Mona and Ram’s son is Dev. When Ram suffers a stroke and lies comatose on his bed, Rose realizes she does not have much right on his property in the absence of a Will. Dev siphons out money from Rose and Ram’s joint account by forging Ram’s signature. She turns to Sonali for help.

Dev, on the other hand, has been much spoilt by both his parents while growing up. He and his wife Nishi live in the same house as Rose and Ram. He is not interested in furthering his father’s business, and engages himself in finding favors from the Prime Minister’s son. Through him, the story dwells into corruption and nepotism that was so rampant during Emergency. We also get glimpses of how people were piled up inside jail for no apparent reason during that black period of Indian democracy.

Sonali is a highly educated civil servant, who faces sudden transfer and fall in ranks as a result of political upheaval. Sonali, a pride of her father, also a civil servant, falls in love with her childhood friend Ravi Kachru, when both were studying at Oxford. But due to differences in opinion and beliefs, they decide to go their separate ways. Both go on to become civil servants, but Sonali finds Ravi moving up the ladder by supporting the kind of autocracy, he so despised.

Politics is the central running theme in this novel. Though worked around an interesting premise, the story does not match upto its promise (atleast for me). The narrative jumps from one character to another, and from past to present in a manner, which is far from smooth.
This book touches upon many issues – the lives of upper class during British rule, the accumulation of wealth, injustice to the poor, the sufferings of lower class during Partition, the role of women over the years, political situation, Indian family values, patriarchal society, the injustice meted out to people during Emergency, and so many others.

I picked up this book anticipating a story woven around the period of Emergency, which our generation has only heard about. Well, it does; but in its attempt to accommodate much wider and complex issues, it keeps losing pace, and it becomes a struggle to establish connect in the proceeding storyline.

It is not a bad book but it lacks a pull in the story that draws readers into the storyline, which I think is expected from any good fiction. But one may explore this book to get a glimpse of that era and what issues enveloped the society during that time. 

(Image source: Wikipedia)


  1. I will stay away from this & thanks for the review coz I usually pick up such books!

  2. I know! Even 'Emergency' was the buzz word for me too but I was highly disappointed.

  3. Must be an enjoyable read Rich Like Us by Nayantara Sahgal. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.