Janet Laird’s life changed the day she inherited her grandfather’s house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son’s arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born.
I decided to read this book because of fictitious town set in India. Last I read about fictitious town set in India was R K Narayan’s Malgudi days. And I have not read much about 1960s India. So I was in for some historical and cultural ride.
Woodman creates a beautiful serene picture of Hamara Nagar with a distinct smell of the town. Yes, I loved the line when she gives a smell to the town.
Her eyes took in the great plunge of the view, the brown and green foothills and beyond them the vast plain with its broad rivers. She smelled pine and distant wood smoke in the moving air
Woodman is surely very well acquainted by Indian culture and she brings in all those unknowing beliefs Indians believe in, like our trust on Mountain People, our obsession with Palmistry and future telling, our ability to spread the rumors in our society. This was well too delightful to read.:)
You know it’s a strange feeling when you are away from a place you have lived in for long. You just don’t miss people but every small thing about that place. The noise, the crowd, the smell all look so endearing then. Like when Jana feels
She yearned to smell the cooking flavors from the bazaar, the sandalwood perfume and coconut oil, even the oddly clean smell of burning cow dung. Her ears were hungry for bedlam of languages, the sound of Urdu and Punjabi and Hindi,with English words popping up like currants in the pudding. And for the music of daily life – the call to prayer from the mosque, the clink of bells in the temple.The call of tea wallahs on the train platforms hawking their hot tea, “Chai, garam chai” in their woonderful rhythmic chant.
One touching issue is the dilemma of people over whether they should have gone to Pakistan. And Woodman touches this issue very briefly giving us a sense that this difficulty and dilemma did exist even a decade after independence.
Reading Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is like watching episodes of a series. You may not get intricate relationships, complex plots that are very likely of books based in India. But what works with this book is the warmth it evokes with its flowery language and melodious tone. With its simple plot and lovely characters, you cannot help but revel in what the story has to offer. Woodman’s writing style is simple and unpretentious.
You know Betsy Woodman is a cross between R.K Narayan and Ruskin Bond and she takes me to India I want to read more about. Hugs and Kisses to her. 🙂