Rani, a young woman, lives with her father, elder brother, brother’s wife and son. Their’s is a very small house in Amritsar which is not repaired for many decades. Whatever their family earns is not sufficient enough for a decent living so they have to lead a compromised life. Rani has to borrow the umbrella from neighbor when it rains, such is their lifestyle. Rani stopped going to school when she was in Ninth standard. She works at a Beauty parlor, making the customers look prettier. The things she like most in her life is telling the stories at bed time to Bittu, her nephew, a school going kid. These stories begin somewhere but do not end as Bittu goes to sleep before they are complete. Rani has an obsession for the movie star Shah Rukh Khan and she is secretly making an album from clippings of his pictures in the Filmfare magazine which she is allowed to bring home from parlor after it has become two-three months old and has lost its gloss.
The peace in their family comes to an end when Rani’s father lends his life savings to a known person but it does not come back. Financial worries become worrisome more than ever. Rani’s father loses his health and dies soon after that. For Rani, who loved her father, this loss becomes painful. When she overhears the talk between her brother and his wife on how burdensome it would be to marry-off Rani, she takes a decision to leave home. A colleague in the parlor she works, informs Rani about a person requiring a home-maid in Delhi.
Rani makes it to Delhi. She finds that house owner is recovering from an accident and that she is a writer. Rani finds that life is better here but she suffers from the pain of living away from Bittu, who was not just an intent listener of her stories but a joy in her life. She goes through emotional highs with the ways the money being is spent in the new place. A sum which is spent on a party would have saved a family from all their troubles back home. The disagreements lead to arguments in the house and the house owner who is going through a writer’s block sees Rani’s point of view and their relationship gets better. This writer discovers the story telling skills of Rani and they both help each other to get through their trauma.
Meanwhile, Rani’s brother dies from depression. Rani is told that Bittu would not cry or talk. Pained by the development, she goes to Amritsar and begs to meet Bittu but she is not allowed to get even a glimpse of Bittu as his mother denies it. Rani comes to know she is no more the same person she used to be. She has to come to terms with what life has in store for her. She returns to Delhi and finds a job in a beauty parlor with the hope that she will get to meet Bittu one day.
Rupa Bazwa is based in Amritsar and has two novels to her credit. Her first novel ‘Sari Shop’ brought her recognition with many awards including the ‘Sahitya Akademi’ award. This is her second novel where-in she constructs the life in the poor families realistically and most of the characters have their own stories to tell. So this appeared to me like a dozen short stories stitched together around the protagonist Rani. Though this novel is based in Amritsar and Delhi, I guess it would have happened anywhere in India and the characters would not have behaved any differently. This novel is a fine read and portrays how human beings care more for the strength in their relationships than materialistic richness or poorness in their lives.