“If I had to distil down to one word what my education did for me – English. It was that I could speak English properly. It is a gift, given by circumstances, to a select few in this country, which can open up so many doors.”
In New Delhi of the 1980s, Aahan Sikand and Rajesh Kumar are childhood playmates. They have been brought up under the care of the same woman, living in the same house, but with starkly different realities – Aahan is the only son and heir of the fabulously wealthy Sikand family, and Rajesh is the son of the family’s driver, who lives in a tiny staff quarter on the grounds of their sprawling bungalow.
As Aahan and Rajesh grow up, the natural friendship they shared as children reaches an uncomfortable end, as both become aware of their places in the world. While Aahan is expected to keep what he has inherited intact for the next generation, Rajesh, in the eyes of the world, can, at best, hope for a life better than his father’s, free of domestic servitude. But he has much larger plans for himself.
I’d been reading some wonderful feedback on Shivani Sibal’s debut and having read the novel now, can attest to her sharp observations on the class divide in society as well as the distribution of power.
Aahan and Rajesh represent the two extremes of a world separated by wealth. As children they can be playmates but that’s the extent to which Rajesh can be a part of Aahan’s world. He cannot share a seat on Aahan’s plush sofa or use the car his father drives for Aahan’s family.
As the boys begin to grow apart, their ambitions take them in different directions, with Rajesh turning to politics and Aahan taking over the family business. Rajesh, cognisant of his privileges in attending a better school and having access to opportunities his poorer cousins can only dream of, uses them to his advantage.
Beginning in the 1980s, the story traverses four decades highlighting the lust for power, wealth, and love, amidst a pervasive segregation of class in society. Interestingly, when the author adds religion to this mix, the equations connecting them become even more complicated.
Sibal presents a multi-layered view of Indian society ranging from family dynamics to secret lives, superficial beauty to societal appearances, personal achievements to professional success. It offers differing perspectives from the eyes of two men holding different aspirations. Rajesh and Aahan’s identities may be bound by their birth but their equations are constantly changing to find a new balance.
Equations is about dreams, ambition and rearranging the social order. It is about looking beyond birth and lineage, valuing merit instead. It is about digging up the lives of the rich and influential to lay their secrets bare.
The author writes matter-of-fact, without judging her characters as black or white. It is simply a social play-by-play of the events in their lives. It is the page-turning quality of her writing that has you invested in their story and keeps you hooked.
A commendable debut!
Equations by Shivani Sibal. Published in 2021 by HarperCollins India.
Book 59 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟.
Available on Amazon*.
About Photo: Rajesh’s ambition for success is driven by his desire to break away from a life of servitude and rise in society. To become the man who employed his father and effectively ruled their lives.
This papercut pattern is hand cut from a single sheet of 200gsm cartridge paper and arranged in a concertina fold to create a dimensional landscape moving from the bottom of the hill all the way to the top.
About the Author: Shivani Sibal was born and brought up in New Delhi, where she continues to live with her husband and daughters. Equations is her first novel.
You can connect with her on Instagram
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