13 June, 2021

Western Disturbances

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

Western Disturbances
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

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.

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