Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

India brings to mind, exotic spices, bright colors, crowded places, curry laden food, and varied religions.  India is a rich mixture of cultures containing a very complex history.  There is a great divide in the various class systems, with the poor living in crowded, flea ridden, flithy slums.  Thrity Umrigar, in The Space Between Us takes the reader from the slums of Bombay to the apartments of the wealthy middle class.   Umrigar explores what gender and class mean when the lines are clearly blurred in modern day India.

Bhima is an old illiterate woman who has worked her entire life as a domestic for a wealthy Parsi woman.  Bhima lives with her granddaughter Maya, in the slum and is working hard so that she can have a better life, so she get out of the slum and end the cycle of poverty that has existed in her family for generations.  Except Maya ends up pregnant as she begins her first year of college and destroys Bhima's hope in the future.

Sera is a wealthy Parsi woman who grew up privledged in the upper middle class social strata.  She married an older man with an anger streak.  Bhima has been her faithful servant for more than 30 years.  She is more like a friend and companion to Bhima than servant, they have shared so many secrets.  Yet after all these years, Sera won't let Bhima sit on the furniture or drink out of one of her glasses.

The main characters are restricted by the class system of India.  In every culture there are people who are invisible, the homeless, the jobless, and the outcasts, so The Space Between Us is a universal story. The class system is an unfortunate way to divide human beings and keep them in their place.  Umrigar does an excellent job of showing how the class system pervades our everyday life and affects our relationships.

The Space Between Us is also about gender roles.  I think this is what made the biggest impact on me.  The men in this book were jerks and utter losers and yet they were on top and made decisions, forcing women into poverty, pregnancy, a life of hard work.  Oh yes, the men in this book really pissed me off.  I kept thinking, Where are all the good men?

India has always intrigued and scared me.  Umrigar has taught me more about the complicated world
of India.  The Space Between Us is a book to be discussed, digested and spit out because it will play with your emotions.  It is written and dedicated to the many women who work as domestics around the world.