The noteworthy matter of interest about Home is that it happens to be the first novel to have come out of Random House India. The binding is fine, the paper is tough and the cover picture is evocative. There is gold lace attached to a fine-looking built-in bookmark. The book, like every new book, smells of fresh wood shavings. Besides, Random House did good homework before pinning down on who ought to be the author of the first book of its newly launched Indian imprint.
Manju Kapur — the author of Home — has respectable credentials. She is a professor of English Literature in the up-market Miranda House — a prestigious college for girls in Delhi, one of whose famous alumni is internationally acclaimed film-maker Mira Nair - the director of the art-house hit Monsoon Wedding. Also, Ms Kapur’s first novel Difficult Daughters, published when she was 50, was sufficiently well-written for its author to be awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1998.
Home is her third novel and after an initial awkwardness in tone, it settles down to an engrossing, simple and quick read. This is the story of a large joint family of Delhi that has a flourishing business in the clothes trade. The household of Banwarilals have a fancy garments showroom — selling bridal clothes etc. — in the bazaar of Karol Bagh, Delhi’s chief shopping destination for middle-class Indians.
The novel starts with two sisters: one is attractive and the other merely plain-looking. The fairer Sona is married to the Banwarilal family while the unlucky Rupa is attached to a junior government officer of no consequence.
In the first few pages the story traces the lives of these two sisters before it finally makes up its mind and shifts focus entirely to the goings-on in the Banwarilal family. Some more episodes of manipulations and politics of the joint family, and of the tale, diversify into the second generation when Sona gives birth to children after ten bitter years of barrenness. The sister Rupa however stays childless, but in many ways remains much happier.
The plot then twists around these second-generation people, but not before causing a little perturbation to this critic. While most of the characterizations are finely etched, it is difficult to sympathize with any of them. The sisters are selfish. The husbands are lethargic. The mother-in-law is a sassy old woman. The family patriarch is too mild. The children are self-absorbed and conventional.
There were encouraging possibilities of developing some empathy with a second-generation son — the only child of a deceased Banwarilal daughter dumped by her drunkard husband back into the family after her suspicious death — but it is spoiled when he starts sexually abusing his cousin sister. However, in spite of many characters and the sub-themes of various lives, the novel finally lurches into a single strand and fortunately stays there.