Written by Kavita Daswani, 'Bombay Girl' is a story of Sohana Badshah, who has led a charmed existence – carefree, wealthy and from a close-knit family (at least as far she knows). And then she moves to London on a whim to pursue an interior design course, where she meets and falls passionately in love with Jagdish Sachdev - he of the compassionate heart and matchless brains.
But Jag leaves her, citing irreconcilable differences between their families.
Sohana returns home to the news that the business empire her grandfather had built over the years will wind up either in the hands of the highest bidder or with the grandson (but of course) who shows the most mettle. As her brothers race to inherit the business, Sohana is wooed, and her ethics and loyalties tested.
In this first installment of Kavita Daswani's trilogy, with secrets tumbling out and dramas unfolding all around her, Sohana must make up her mind about what and who she is in the scheme of things.
Here's an extract from the book:
Around the same time every morning, Chanoo slipped out of the house, strolled to the corner news stand and purchased the day's newspapers - the Times of India, the Economic Times, Mint. As the household's head servant, she had earned the privilege of a few moments of respite in a day otherwise crowded with more strenuous domestic chores.
As she always did, she brought the papers to my parents' bedroom, alongside a tray holding a steaming cup of tea and a small glass jar of honey soaked almonds, my mother's morning staple.
My father had just left for work, and I took advantage of his absence from my parents' room to join my mother there, where I lay on her warm bed, immersed in Jane Austen. I was still healing from my break-up with Jag, still reeling from the bitter disappointment of it, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. I asked questions of my family that nobody would answer.
My mother settled into an armchair and arranged the newspapers on a small table in front of her, leaving them crisp and pristine for later on, when my father would come home for lunch and catch up on his reading.
But something on the front page of the Daily Business Journal, the country's leading financial newspaper, caught her eye.
'What is this?' she asked, frowning.
I set my book down and walked over to my mother's side. On the front page was a photograph of my grandfather and his three sons. The headline read: 'Who are the Badshahs?', and below that, 'How This Family Came Out of Nowhere to Claw its Way to the Top'.
'This is not possible,' Mom said. 'This is a mistake. A joke.'
Seeing my grandfather, father and two uncles on the cover of a leading daily newspaper felt incongruous, phony, and my initial thought was that it was a gag, one of those fake newspaper front pages you commissioned for a special occasion or a practical joke. I took the paper from my mother's hand and rifled through the pages.
There was a story on the rising power of the rupee, an analysis of the most bullish IPOs, a piece on the technological prowess of Karnataka.
This was no gag. This was real.
Phones were ringing. My mother's mobile, lying on her dressing table, vibrated urgently. Chanoo appeared at the doorway and said that Dad was on the phone in the living room, and wanted to speak to Mom immediately.
'This cannot be,' Mom muttered again, looking vaguely towards me.
I nodded in weak agreement.
But I had an unshakeable feeling that after this day, things would be very different for all of us.
'They kept calling for an interview,' my father said, back home a few hours later. 'We declined. They ran a story anyway.'
'But I don't understand how they got this information,' Mom said. 'They are talking about all this stuff, all this wealth, that we … that you have, Jeetu,' she lowered her voice. 'Tell me, is it true? Are we really, you know, this?'
Dad didn't answer. He shook his head, took another sip of Scotch.
'Baba must be furious,' my mother continued. 'He loves his privacy, his … secrets.'
She was right. My grandfather was a man who loathed the limelight, who thought that overt displays of grandeur were as gross as lovers groping one another in public.
'Dad, how did they find these pictures?' I asked, leaning forward to pick up the newspaper again. 'Where did they get this information?'
'These days, anyone can find out anything,' my father sneered. He stirred the ice cubes in his tumbler with his finger. 'Goddamn journalists.'
I looked at the photo again, a generic corporate shot, taken for the group's internal purposes. Baba was perched on the cognac-coloured leather armchair in his office, a cream-coloured Nehru jacket stretched over his large frame, his full white hair reminiscent of a lion's mane. His interlocked fingers were studded with large rings, a chunky weave of coral and emeralds and rubies, prescribed by various astrologers, and destined to help Baba get, in the words of one, 'from zero to hero.'
My father and his two brothers, one older, one younger, stood around my grandfather, looking homogenous in their dark suits and shiny ties, with side-swept clipped hair and vague smiles.
On an inside page were more pictures: an exterior shot of the squat, grey hued building in central Mumbai that was home to Badshah Industries, the company that Baba had founded fifty years ago; a black-and-white photo of Baba as a young man, his legs scrawny and face solemn, outside a steel mill. The caption read, 'Darshan Badshah, 20, at his first job'. A montage in a corner showed my aunts and mother at charity events. And, at the bottom, a tiny headshot of me with my best friend Nitya, taken at an art gallery opening. The caption read: 'Sohana Badshah, the lone heiress, currently studying interior design in London.' There was an inaccuracy, right there: I had been enrolled in a nine-month interior decorating course, but abandoned it within three months, unable to bear being in London after Jag had left.
'It will be old news tomorrow,' my mother said to Dad, trying to reassure him. 'People will forget about it.'
My father stared blankly at her.
Book: Bombay Girl; Author: Kavita Daswani; Price: Rs. 199.00; 320 pages