13 June, 2021

Western Disturbances

Jhabvala’s patient, conservative art takes in rich America, showbiz, India in ways sparkling and sedate

Western Disturbances

After a hiatus of some years, a collection of short stories from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: vigorous, sharp and often expansive, it is an odd assortment, like a box of mixed sweets, with old tastes tingling with the new. Who in 2011 will savour, let alone enjoy, the opening story, Innocence? It’s about a struggling Hindi writer with a day job at All India Radio and his fellow lodgers: a sari-clad, spiritually-inclined American and Kay, a mildly vampish brigadier’s daughter who reads Francoise Sagan. “Is it true? Is this how modern girls behave, so free and knowing so much about sex?” asks the landlord, picking up a tattered copy of the novel. He’s a dodgy, lower middle-class Delhi Punjabi, rumoured to have been involved in a gold-running racket with “Bibiji”, his harmonium-playing wife. It’s oppressively hot, with “winds laden with the dust of the desert whirling through the city”. Then, suddenly, there’s blood on the floor.

Don’t you know the characters, the suppressed...

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