Today we're sharing a guest post by Thrity Umrigar, author of The Secrets Between Us!
About the Book:
Bhima, the unforgettable main character of Thrity Umrigar’s beloved national bestseller The Space Between Us, returns in this triumphant sequel—a poignant and compelling novel in which the former servant struggles against the circumstances of class and misfortune to forge a new path for herself and her granddaughter in modern India.
"It isn’t the words we speak that make us who we are. Or even the deeds we do. It is the secrets buried in our hearts."
Poor and illiterate, Bhima had faithfully worked for the Dubash family, an upper-middle-class Parsi household, for more than twenty years. Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. The sting of that dismissal was made more painful coming from Sera Dubash, the temperamental employer who had long been Bhima’s only confidante. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya.
Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer, each confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.
A dazzling story of gender, strength, friendship, and second chances, The Secrets Between Us is a powerful and perceptive novel that brilliantly evokes the complexities of life in modern India and the harsh realities faced by women born without privilege as they struggle to survive.
From the Author:
Ever since the publication of The Space Between Us in 2006, readers have asked for a sequel. At book talks, many have expressed concern and worry about Bhima’s future in such emotional terms, that I have occasionally jokingly reminded them that Bhima is, after all, a fictional character about whom they need not worry so much. And I have also batted away their requests for a sequel because I felt that I had said everything I had wanted to say about the peculiar institution that is the employment of domestic servants in India, in Space. And I was not interested in telling the same story twice.
But over the years, I have often wondered about a minor character who nobody has ever asked about—Parvati, the disfigured vegetable vendor, who Bhima treats with horror and contempt. The novel tells us that Parvati earns her living selling six heads of cauliflower a day. And this has always aroused my curiosity. How on earth does one survive on such a meager income? And what life circumstances have reduced this poor woman, barely mentioned in Space, to her threadbare existence? Who was Parvati and what was her life story?
I didn’t know the answers to these questions. Until the day I did.
And once I knew Parvati’s background, I was interested in exploring her story more and seeing if it would intersect with Bhima’s. It occurred to me that the time period of the novel—around 2006 or 2007—was exactly when globalization had taken root in India and the country was buoyant with hope and giddy with economic prosperity. For the first time, class mobility seemed possible and young people were at the vanguard of shifts in cultural mores.
But what about two, rickety, marginalized old women? Could this new India have room for them to prosper and grow? Or would these new currents of change simply sweep past them? I found myself excited to test these questions by placing Bhima and Parvati against the background of a changing country and to capture some of its optimism and daring.
Thus, a novel was born.
Sera, Bhima’s former employer, has a smaller role in The Secrets Between Us. When readers would express sympathy for Bhima, I would ask them to also consider Sera, who had to choose between her friendship with Bhima and her loyalty to her family. Sera is as much a victim as Bhima, I would remind my readers, and her psychological entrapment is every bit as terrible as Bhima’s economic prison. I hope the reader will see the price Sera has paid for her choice.
The book also engages with the fact that humans need more than money to feel fully human. They need family. They need community. The introduction of a young gay couple, who befriends Bhima’s granddaughter, Maya, provides Bhima with an opportunity to confront her own prejudices and also to expand her definition of family. If Bhima and Parvati are to make it, it is this sorority of sisterhood that they will need to rely on to combat all of life’s injustice and betrayals.