The Hope Factory
* Rs. 550 * 350 pp
Lavanya Sankaran’s The Hope Factory explores the intersecting lives of two people in Bangalore. Anand, a Mysore boy who now owns a successful factory, needs more land to expand the business but wants to acquire it in an above board way.
Kamala, Anand’s domestic help, struggles to provide her intelligent son with the future he deserves. Despite the gulf between their situations, Anand and Kamala’s lives parallel each other.Both are proud of their exceptionally clever children, both face difficulties related to the rising cost of real estate in their shared city.
The whole book is told from the perspectives of these two characters and as a result, we’re given the impression that they are both kind, honest, proud and too good for the people around them.
Kamala is unfailingly nice to the unpleasant women with whom she works, and Anand is the patient husband and polite son-in-law to a selfish wife and her overbearing father.
The problem with this is that the book itself rarely challenges these perceptions. As a result, neither the main characters nor most of those around them achieve any depth or complexity.
Anand’s wife Vidya comes off the worst here. To Kamala she’s a spoiled and capricious employer. To Anand she’s a figure of contempt. We are not allowed to believe she does anything sincerely.
There’s something Dickensian about all this; we know from the start who is good, who is bad, who is worthy of our sympathy and who of our mockery. Harry Chinappa, the blustering socialite, is bad.
Anand’s property agent, who evinces a love of the land is good. The corrupt politician’s henchman is bad. The widowed mother whose only interest is her son is good. And so forth.
The book’s adherence to the narrative of honest man in corrupt world comes close to validating Anand’s father’s belief that People Like Us are not cut out for such dirty undertakings as business.
Sankaran partially salvages things with occasional flashes of irony, and a comic understanding of people in conversation. This is clearest in some of the interactions between Anand and his friends and co-workers.
Bangalore itself is evoked occasionally through cliché (its traffic, its Pink Floyd fans) but manages to feel like a real city, even if few of the people in it do.
The Hope Factory is, in the end, an effective book about a changing city; I only wish its characters didn’t feel so incidental to it.
Aishwarya Subramanian is a writer and critic who lives in New Delhi.