Thirst by Shree Ghatage
With a collection of short stories and a debut novel behind her, Shree Ghatage has truly come of age with Thirst. Living first in Newfoundland and now in Calgary, Shree Ghatage immigrated to Canada from Bombay in 1983.
Thirst begins as we meet Vasanti, in India, during the Second World War. Imagine a world without email, or even reliable and inexpensive telephone service – a world when letters took 4 weeks to arrive in England when posted from India, and the response another 4 weeks to return to India.
Vasanti enters into an arranged marriage with a man she has never met. Without a mother to prepare Vasanti for her role as a wife, she enters this marriage innocent but willing to please her husband. The man she has married, Baba, had little interest in acquiring a wife. He went along with the plans of his parents, knowing that he would soon be leaving to continue his studies in England – leaving his new wife behind with his family in India.
Unexpectedly, however, he falls in love with Vasanti, and though he knows in his heart he should not be leaving her, he does. Baba is the youngest boy in a family of boys, an affluent family, with a home, a country farm, and plenty to eat and drink, a future guaranteed for his own family. Baba’s stubborn and rash decision to leave is motivated by his discovery of his father’s secret life outside of the family home. Unacceptable to the young and uncompromising Baba, he wants only to be as far away from his father as possible, even when it means leaving Vasanti.
Baba manages to secure a berth on a troop ship, crossing dangerous oceans to reach England where he finds the bombing of London has postponed beginning his classes. Finding London a depressing city, full of prejudice and poverty, he leaves the city to do some traveling before his classes begin.
Baba takes a trip into Wales, with a plan to climb Mount Snowdon. This decision will result in consequences he could never have imagined and his life is dramatically changed. While Vasanti waits for a letter, knowing it will be four weeks before Baba’s first letter reaches her – she waits and waits, and waits.
I have already told you far too much of this story – the conclusion may be a touch melodramatic – but that often seems to be the Indian way. Thirst is a novel worthy of a day on the dock before summer comes to an end.