This funny, poignant, sometimes harrowing tale of two women, connected by race but separated by culture, covers a lot of ethical ground: arranged marriage, surrogacy, generational tension, bureaucratic corruption and domestic abuse, to name a few. Though the main theme is the exploitation of women and girls in India, the characters engage our empathy throughout and the novel would be a valuable accompaniment to cultural and gender studies.
'Basically, surrogacy is unregulated in India right now, that’s why it’s cheap. There are guidelines laid down rather than laws, so it varies from clinic to clinic. I chose this one because they seem to be long-established and well-organised, have a good success rate and are pretty strict in their parameters: all the surrogates have to be married, have a clean bill of health and medical history, to have had two healthy babies themselves, agree not to have sexual relations during the pregnancy ...'
'Nine months with no sex?' Strange how unfair this now seemed to Shyama, whereas during her marriage it would have struck her as perfectly reasonable.
'I know!' chimed Priya, her eyes still focussed on the screen. 'I mean, nine months not shagging your husband, fair enough, but they have to promise not to do it with anyone. That’s dedication, huh? And they have to have a signed permission from their husbands to offer themselves up for surrogacy at all.'
'That’s a bit dodgy, isn’t it? What about the woman’s right to choose, her own body and all that?'
'It’s India, darling. And most of these women are from rural areas. I don’t think it would go down well with the local menfolk if they snuck off and came back up the duff with a foreigner’s sprog. Even if it will pay for a new tractor or whatever. It’s for their protection, at the end of the day.'