Fabulous Fiction Firsts #701
Mon, 03/25/2019 - 10:53pm by muffy
Heaven is a slum at the heart of Bangalore. Once marked by a sign that said ”Swargahalli”, but thirty years later, all that’s left is the word swarga, as in Sanskrit for Heaven. Now the bulldozers are back, ordered by the government to raze the rest of the ramshackle neighborhood to make room for new high-rises. For fifteen-year olds Deepa, Banu, Padma, Rukshana and Joy, it is home and the closest thing to heaven they have known. As a bulldozer flattens Banu's home, they spring into action. Joined by their mothers who are no strangers to hardship, “they form a human chain, hijabs and dupattas snapping in the metallic wind, saris shimmering in the afternoon sun”.
Going back in forth in time, we come to know these young women as classmates in the government-sponsored school and best friends. Banu is a talented artist who risks everything to cover the city in protest graffiti; Deepa, visually impaired, is a gifted dancer and a keen observer; transgender-Joy, (born Anand), is the scholar in the group and a Christian convert; Rukshana, a queer Muslim tomboy, is fiercely loyal; and Padma, a migrant from the countryside must shoulder the care for her illiterate family. Their mothers’ stories are all the more heartbreaking… In a culture that does not value women, they endure abuse, abandonment, poverty, compounded by the lack of an education. They are “(a)ngry, unforgiving goddesses… the kind that protect their daughters”.
“The power of these fierce young women shines in spite of their circumstances, and they prove just how beautiful and influential a strong, unconditionally accepting community is. Subramanian is a remarkable writer whose vibrant words carry a lot of heart. This inspiring novel is sure to draw in readers with its lyrical prose and endearing characters.” (Booklist)