May 25, 2020
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Missionary Zeal

However disarmingly displayed, the author and the protagonist's political naivete are embarrassing.

Missionary Zeal
By Meher Pestonji
HarperCollins Pages: 318; Rs 295
Beware the socialite turned activist and even more when she sits down to write a novel. Pervez is Meher Pestonji’s portrait of a gentle Parsi girl who discovers her true self. After a broken marriage with a Goan bandmaster, this Marine Drive orchid returns to Bombay, to find it no longer the pearl and chiffon city of her childhood. The chimes of the grandfather clock in her brother’s house are now overlaid by the sounds of "maro, kato" in Mumbai under the Shiv Sena. Attracted to the work her friend is doing in Dharavi slums, Pervez makes a life of her own: distancing herself from the privileges of her birth. The butterfly, in short, now becomes the chrysalis.

This, then, is the Sahmat school of fiction—shrill, posters with slogans that translate the ’60s flower rhetoric into chi-chi Hindi, candlelight vigils, some slumming and then a hot shower with Bodyshop gel in mamma’s bathroom! However disarmingly displayed, the author and the protagonist’s political naivete are embarrassing. Violent encounters change Pervez’s life forever—a riot in Dharavi, a visit to the emergency ward. One has her cowering under a quilt, the other fainting. Pervez finally takes courage and performs the ultimate act of defiance, after the police rough her up. Promise not to laugh, and I’ll tell you: she spits into a gutter!

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