Reminiscing the magic of the Parveen Mistry Book series 

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”-  J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Sujata Massey’s best work is reflected in her Parveen Mistry book series. Set in 1920’s Bombay, the book brings alive the charm of old world Bombay,  jam packed with an Agatha Christie esque mystery in every book ,  through the eyes of the even more charming protagonist – Parveen.

Bombay’s first female lawyer, Parveen has a past more colorful than a rainbow. With her grandfather a successful builder and her father a successful lawyer, Parveen has to prove her grain of salt. 

The element of defiance is introduced very early on in the book in the form of Parveen’ s father choosing to move away from a successful family business and pursue law. Almost as if to signify a dominant character among the Mistrys and perhaps to indicate the father-daughter bond early on; defiance forms a very important part of Parveen’s character too. It is a very great indication on part of Massey about how women today owe a lot of our freedom and lifestyle to this defiance. 

The early parts of the novel are replete with problems faced by women who wanted to be educated in a man’s world at that time. Parveen, the only female in her law class, is picked upon by her classmates and her teachers for not choosing the conventional degrees for women and wanting to be a lawyer. However she defies the society at that time, even when she’s completely miserable. 

We often say circumstances make the man, and Massey uses this brilliantly. Parveen’s misery and the consequent circumstances  are used as a hook to propel the story forward and she’s attracted to Cyrus. 

Cyrus, a man who seems like a sweet guy…  almost as if made for her… and ;she defies her parents and marries him. Massey again tries to ponder deeply about what feminism is… does leaving her education and getting married make Parveen any less of a feminist? Or is feminism Parveen deciding to take her own life in her own hands against her parent’s wishes? Well to each their own.

Now after getting married; Parveen soon realizes that Cyrus is only behind her money. And  when things become too much, one fine day, she leaves her marital home. With her father’s help she is soon able to secure a separation but not divorce. Again this element of defiance shapes Parveen’s character and lays the foundation for the strong woman that Pareveen will soon become. 

A separated woman, free from her husband, Parveen  now moves to the UK and studies law, coming back to Bombay  only after her degree is finished. As females were not allowed to argue in courts at that time , Parveen works as a solicitor,   instrumental in drafting contracts and agreements at her father’s firm- Mistry Law. 

Parveen’s background, peppered in the form of various flashbacks is mentioned in the first book. Working as a solicitor, Parveen comes across various mysteries, meets a varied kind of different people, and helps the readers put together a whole picture about old time Bombay. 

The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first book of the Parveen Mistry series. While working on the will of the deceased Mr Omar Farid, Parveen comes across a strange incident. Mr Farid’s three widows, to whom he left a substantial amount of money and property, have given away all of their property to a charity. Wondering how the three women, who live in strict purdah seclusion would survive if they have no property , Parveen decides to investigate. Being a female lawyer, it is relatively easier for her to talk to these women and get to the crux of the matter. What started as a mere curiosity, soon turns into something a lot murkier and suspenseful. 

The next book, The Satapur Moonstone takes place in the bountiful green cover of the Sahyadri mountains in Maharashtra. After the death of the monarch of Satapur,  the young heir – apparent  becomes the Crown Prince. However, he has one problem. His mother and his grandmother, both under strict purdah, are conflicted regarding his education. While his  mother wants him to go to an English school, his grandmother wants him to study with the royal tutor. The conflict between the two women is a headache for the British, who are handling the throne till the young prince comes of age. Parveen is asked to make the two purdah-abiding  women come to a consensus. While on this seemingly not-so-grave task in the Sahyadris, things  soon take a dangerous turn.

The Bombay Prince is by far my most favorite one. The first  book which highlights Massey creating a fixed niche for herself, the plot doesn’t have a well set disguise of a civil matter. Here, the murder forms the crux of the story. Set against the backdrop of the Prince of Wales coming to Bombay, the novel is replete with high emotions of growing nationalism that would have started simmering within the country. Parveen is consulted by Frenny Cuttingmaster, another young, headstrong Parsi woman as herself, regarding the legality of Frenny and her friends missing  the college parade on the day of the Prince’s visit. Parveen, believing Frenny to have skipped college, is shocked to come across her dead body on the day of the parade. When what was initially a suicide is deemed to be a murder after the coroner’s inquest, Parveen tries to find out more about why Frenny was murdered. 

The Parveen Mistry series is indeed a terrific read. Vivid descriptions of Old Bombay, the British times as well as the Indian society, Massey’s book transports one to 1920’s Bombay, into Parveen’s world. The references to delicious food and the quintessential Parsi bakeries sprinkled throughout the book are sure to make many people hungry. The idea of female empowerment is very subtly but strongly depicted within the book. 

I find absolutely no negatives about the book series, except for the fact that references to Old Bombay and some historical events may sometimes be a bit confusing. Parveen and Cyrus’s story is a bit more elaborate  and long for my taste. But overall the series is a fantastic one! And I eagerly await for what world Massey would have us dwell into next. 

References

  1. Goodreads: Book Quotes: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/books
  1. The Parveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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