“Such Big Dreams” by Reema Patel
India has a population of nearly 1.4 Billion people. When you are in a major urban area, it seems that each person is out in the streets with you. Nowhere is that more true than in Bombay/Mumbai. You have never before experienced true chaos until you spend time on the streets of Mumbai.
If you are a non-native you will feel a mixture of amazement, appallment, and abject fear. If you are fortunate, you will have the privilege of being accompanied by a guide who will help you navigate — both literally and figuratively. Reema Patel is such a guide. Patel’s stunning debut “Such Big Dreams” will bury itself deep in your mind and soul. Rahki’s journey from orphan, to abused foster child, to homeless street urchin/petty thief, to reform school, to being rescued to get a second (first?) chance. It will make you hope and cry.
Patel captures the essence of Bombay in a most powerful way, from the sprawling slums where survival is a day-to-day proposition to the palaces of the rich who live off the exploitation and virtual slavery of the lower castes. The lines are not meant to be crossed in any but the most controlled manner. When they do, danger is sure to follow. Tragedy can occasionally be averted with the right combination of wile and connections.
Needless to say, life is not fair. Bribery and corruption are rampant at all levels. Every living situation is precarious — literally capable of disappearing before your eyes from one day to the next. There are some who care about these inequities, and a very few who are willing to genuinely do something about them. Gauri Verma is one of those few. She’s not perfect, but she is perfectly drawn.
Thank you, Reema Patel, for adding to my wonderment of India — its people, culture, and potential. “Such Big Dreams” goes to the top of my recommended list for those looking for something more than the “Slumdog Millionaire”/Bollywood version of the world’s largest democracy and one of its most innovative and important.
Thank you to McClelland & Stewart Books and NetGalley for the eARC.