The 15 stories in “Out of India,” culled from Jhabvala’s four previous collections, feature a rich array of characters, Indian and European, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, male and female. Many of the stories are told from particular viewpoints, in memorably individualised voices. Irony is the keynote, as we listen and watch in fascination how, through passion, vanity, indolence, ignorance, or a lethally limited amount of knowledge, so many are undone by their own volition. Making no attempt at softening what she perceives, she describes the poverty, the squalor, the disturbing mixture of savagery and sanctity, and the unendurable oppressiveness of the summer heat. How, then, does an “irritable” European with “weak” nerves, sitting in her air-conditioned room with blinds drawn, survive amid conditions she deplores? How does someone “not interested in India” draw upon these alien, yet familiarised surroundings as material for her fiction? By recording her impressions in the clear light of her prose. Alienation is a secret wellspring of art.
As gripping as any of the stories, yet even more relentless in its candour, is the author’s introduction, “Myself in India,” which first appeared in London Magazine. Speaking for herself, in her own voice, Jhabvala baldly declares: “I have lived in India for most of my adult life. My husband is Indian and so are my children. I am not, and less so every year. . . . I must admit I am no longer interested in India. . . . If I hadn’t married an Indian, I don’t think I would ever have come here, for I am not attracted–or used not to be attracted–to the things that usually bring people to India.”
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