Moving right along. Part 6 already. Or, twenty pages just shy of part six, though in all truthfulness I should have been writing this post last week and by the end of the coming week (had I not strayed from my mental schedule) I should be telling you about part seven. Still, let's look on the bright side and note that I am almost 400 pages into the novel now meaning there are just over a thousand pages left. (Maybe I'll just consider that a little comic relief, but 400 pages is still practically a whole novel in and of itself, right). My reading went all wonky in November but I am hoping to bring it around this month. Alas, I am not off to the best of starts, but thankfully it is not a race, so let me tell you about part six of A Suitable Boy, which will help reorient me and get me back on track.
Last section I met some new characters, got in the middle of a riot, listened to a few impassioned speeches in a court inquiry (which came about thanks to violence during said riot), and was witness to some nasty family rivalries. This story is nothing if not dramatic. Lata, where are you Lata? How is it going in Calcutta? I heard about you through a letter from your mother, but more about that in a moment. There was just a small reference or two to her, and I do hope to catch up with her news soon.
But is is mostly the Kapoors who have been center stage this section, and in particular Maan who is besotted with the courtesan Saeeda Bai. Actually he is more than a little moonstruck over her, silly boy (doesn't he know she may be toying with him, but she is a working girl, more or less, and must look after herself and her younger sister). The affair is being talked about and it is becoming something of an embarrassment to his family. He does have a suitable match lined up and I think his family is ready to move things along so it might all get pretty interesting on that front very soon. He is actually learning Urdu in order to speak her language and be able to read poetry. Now that is a serious crush indeed.
This is where the story gets interesting and complicated. Here are where some of the nuances of Indian culture are coming out (and I am still trying to understand it all and sort it out in my mind, so forgive me if I make a misstep somewhere). Maan is Hindi, but Saeeda is Muslim and while they can communicate fine, they each know different languages. I suspect they are also perhaps different caste, but I have not quite figured all that out yet. I think in this culture, and at least at this particular period in time, to be cultured is to not only appreciate fine music, and ghazals, but to be able to recite the poetry (so ghazals are a form of poetry and Saeeda sings them) but to be able to respond and know the references. And I think part of it is the rhythm of the language and the play on words.
There has also been more talk about the zamindars (which to put it into a context I am more familiar with--they are the aristocrats and landowners of Indian Society) and the Abolition Bill which is being negotiated in parliament. I'm glad that I am not the only one confused by it all, as even some of the characters have expressed bewilderment by what it all means. It may not be fair that a few own so much when so many have so little, but they do serve as patrons of the arts--including helping the musicians and performers stay afloat and make a living.
Maybe we'll let Maan continue mooning (in his annoyance at being turned away from Saeeda's door not just once but several times this section) and hope that he behaves himself when he decides to spend time in the Tarbuz ka Bazaar, where there are singing girls (of the lower orders, like Tahmina Bai--no relation to Saeeda) and gambling to help Maan in his dissolute pursuits, and check in with what Lata's mother had to say in her latest letter to Savita and Pran:
"Lata is now spending a lot of time with Meenakshi's family. Meenakshi's father Mr. Justice Chatterji things highly of Lata, I think, and Meenakshi's sister Kokoli is also fond of her."
"Lata I fear was very angry and hurt with me when we first came to Calcutta and also worried about her exam results and not like herself at all. You must telegram the results as soon as they come, no matter whether good or bad. It was that boy K of course and nothing else whom she met in Brahmpur and he was clearly a bad influence. Sometimes she made a bitter remark to me and sometimes only gave me minimum answers to my questions, but can you imagine if I had let things go in that way? I had no help or sympathy from Arun at all in this but now I have told him to introduce Lata to his covenanted and other friends and let us see."
I do hope we get back to her in the next section as I am eager to see how she is getting on and whether, if indeed, Arun has been bringing suitable boys her way!