It opens in 1941, when Mili (Malavika Singh), princess of Mohanagar, is allowed to go to boarding school in the hills of Kishangarh, along with her best friend and soul sister, Victoria Nunes, better known as Vicky, whose mother is Indian and whose late father was British. The two girls share an extremely close bond, despite the differences in their temperaments and upbringing. Vicky is a tomboy, ready and eager to embrace her new found freedom with wide open arms, while Mili usually hesitates at first, knowing how hard it was for her parents to let her leave her sheltered, pampered existence. Two and a half months into her new life, "she had got used to life in a hostel. She had even got used to getting dressed and making her bed all by herself, without the help of Bhoomi. But she hadn't yet got used to queuing up outside toilets every morning, drinking tea that smelt of kerosene oil - just like the tea sold on railway stations - taking showers in tiny bathrooms without any bathtubs and gulping down the inedible food. The only things that were the same as Mohanagar were the classes; they were boring."
With her characteristic easy to read narrative style, Sangeeta Bhargava manages to weave a gripping story around several burning issues of the day. As the story unfolds, the characters and locales come to life. Your interest is gripped by Raven, the teacher without a surname and what seems to be a mysterious past, Gurpreet, who is violently against the British, his friend Jatin, the young widow Vidushi, Vicky's Aunt Ethel and her husband Uncle George, the mysterious Guruji and his band of insurgents, the popular Uncleji and his tuckshop, Bahadur, Miss Perkins, the sinister ceiling fan, the tattle tale Angel........
A central tragic event affects them all. Childhood and youth give way to a new maturity. Love and loss forge Mili's character into a person completely different from the pampered princess of her youth, a person you feel proud of, although she is aware of some irrational aspects of her personality, and hopes to overcome them some day. " Would she finally have the courage to break free of age-old customs and traditions and leave home? To pursue a life which none in her family had ever done before? All the girls in their dynasty had been good little princesses who had married the man of their parents' choice and become good little wives. Would she be able to break off this tradition?"
As with Sangeeta Bhargava's previous book, The World Beyond, you live the story and the history. You realise how the personal becomes the political, how seemingly unrelated events have a tremendous impact on individual lives, sometimes detrimental, sometimes hugely positive.
Through it all, I can see Sangeeta's steadfast love for India........
Published 2012 by Alison and Busby, UK
Available at http://www.flipkart.com/after-