The Space Between Us

You know you’re really curious with a book if every time you visited a bookstore you keep holding and and staring at its cover but then decided not to buy it. Then you visited the bookstore again and you did the same thing again. Either I spend too much time in a bookstore or I’m just broke and need to spend wisely my book allowance (both, I think). Anyway, I keep doing that again and again to ‘The Space Between Us’, there’s something about the book that makes me want to sit and read it page by page. So when finally it was on sale I bought it and just like what I’d thought, I enjoyed reading this book so much I finished it in two days (the last few chapters I read it at night in a car on the way to Bandung to Central Java – I made the driver to turn on the light inside the car)

The ‘us’ in the story are Bhima, a servant in an Indian family and Sera, her mistress. Both are middle aged women (though Sera few years younger than Bhima) and Sera had considered Bhima as her family – in fact, her neighbors had often said that she treated Bhima way too nice and someday Bhima would sit in Sera’s head! But Sera – lived her own unhappy life had known some moments when there was no other people , not even her mother, who understands her as Bhima did. Because Bhima, being a faithful servant had seen things others couldn’t have seen.

Bhima, now a grandmother, lived series of unfortunate events since she had lost her husband and her son. She became bitter and angry, but she remained honest and discipline about her works. Her loyalty to Sera sometimes amazed her granddaughter, Maya. Maya thought that Bhima would put Sera’s family first before her own.  Bhima lived in a slum area in Mumbai and being fortunate enough to had visited the city  a year ago, I had no difficulty in imagining the scenes, the crowded market, the busy and loud people on the street, street vendors – chapatti and the beach close to The Gate of India at night.

The story began with how angry Bhima was, realizing that Maya her precious granddaughter was pregnant. Maya was a smart girl and had been given scholarship by Sera to continue her study in a good college, and Maya also was a nice and polite girl. This incident shocked both of the family, especially when Maya wouldn’t reveal who was the father of her unborn child. Bhima hated Maya so much for her recklessness, she of all people, knew what it meant to live without education, so she hoped so much that Maya wouldn’t have to suffer life she had lived. But then, her dream was shattered with the news and she was worried sick of what future might hold for Maya.

In Sera’s house, her daughter Dinaz, few years older than Maya was also with a baby. But different with Bhima’s life, everything in Sera’s life seemed to go well. Dinaz had a nice husband, worked in a good company, and naturally was a really nice girl whom Bhima raised. Despite her loyalty to the family, she couldn’t help to feel envious of Sera’s life. She hated herself when the thoughts crept in her mind and kept reminding herself how much Sera had help her through her ordeals.

Sera, a widower was felt a deep compassion to Bhima, Bhima was the only one who knew how bad her late husband had hit her, who massaged her bruises with ointment, and who raised Dinaz like her own. But she didn’t understand why she let Bhima sat on the floor when they had their morning teas, why she kept separating their utensils and why she didn’t want to touch Bhima as if the slum where Bhima lived was with her in her skin, although she knew Bhima was the cleanest person she had known.

The twist in the story was pretty easy to guess, but I didn’t mind. There was something more enchanting in the way Thrity Umrigar told the story of two women’s life in an old and cruel yet beautiful city called Bombay.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

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