In this novel, Thrity Umrigar explores issues of social class and the ways in which class impacts life experience and relationships. Sera is a wealthy Indian woman who suffered in an unhappy and violent marriage. Bhima is her servant, living in extreme poverty with her orphaned granddaughter Maya, who she has cared for since early childhood. Bhima has worked for Sera for years; the two women understand and care deeply for each other. Many times Sera has come to Bhima’s aid, using her status to secure better healthcare for a family member, arrange for Maya’s education, and help Bhima navigate government beaurocracy. And Bhima provided Sera with much-needed emotional support throughout her marriage.
On the surface it would appear the two women have overcome class differences and forged a deep and lasting friendship. Yet Sera will not allow Bhima to sit on her furniture. There are many other small indications along the way, until the novel’s climax fully exposes the chasm between the two women. In the final analysis, class differences reinforce one woman’s privilege and the other’s destitution.