Thrity Umrigar, acclaimed author of The Space Between Us and The Weight of Heaven, returns with a breathtaking new novel—a skillfully wrought, emotionally resonant story of four women and the indelible friendship they share. Fans of Jennifer Haigh’s Faith, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, and Katrina Kittle’s The Kindness of Strangers will be captivated by Umrigar’s The World We Found—a moving story of bottled secrets, unfulfilled dreams, and the acceptance that can still lead to redemption, from a writer whom the New York Times calls “perceptive and often piercing.”
About the Author
Thrity Umrigar is the author of seven novels Everybody’s Son, The Story Hour, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time; a memoir, First Darling of the Morning; and a children’s picture book, When I Carried You in My Belly. A former journalist, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and was a finalist for the PEN Beyond Margins Award. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Read an Excerpt
The World We FoundA Novel
By Thirty Umrigar
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2012 Thirty Umrigar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe tooth broke three days after she received the awful
news. There was no blood. No pain, even. For three days
she had believed that it was her heart that had broken
into tiny fragments, but turned out it was another part of her
body that decided to mourn the news. No pain, no blood. Just
a moment of puzzlement as she bit into the soft French toast
she made for breakfast this morning and felt something hard
and brittle in her mouth. She spat out two small pieces into her
cupped hand. Dish stared at her for a stunned second and then
said, "Oh, no. What happened? "
She stared back at him, unable to reply, transfixed by the
rightness and wrongness of the broken tooth. On the one hand,
she was not yet fifty and in the pink of health, as her mother
would have said. Much too young to be losing teeth at breakfast.
On the other hand, the evidence before her was appropriate, an
outward manifestation of the brokenness she'd felt ever since
the phone call from Armani. An uncharacteristic acceptance
descended upon Ladle, in contrast to the denial she had felt
since Armani called with news about her cancer. Then, she'd
felt like a wild animal, lassoed by the tyranny of the telephone
cord. No, no, no, she'd shaken her head as she got off the phone.
She rose from the table and headed into the bathroom. She
rinsed her mouth with cold water, and only then did she look
up into the mirror. It was a side tooth and a stubble was still
attached to her gums, and yet, how irrevocably it altered her
appearance. For some absurd reason, it reminded Ladle of the
New York skyline after the towers went missing, a gap that
drew attention to what was absent. Until now, her teeth had
been as sturdy and even as piano keys; but then, until now her
oldest friend in the world had not been dying. It was right
somehow, in this week of reminders of mortality, that she sacrifice
Still, she regretted the timing. She and Gravitas were meeting
in a few hoursnot enough time to phone the dentist and get
an emergency appointmentto go to Mrs. Gujranwala old
address. They had not seen the woman in almost thirty years,
and given the crucial nature of their mission, Ladle would've
preferred looking her best. The broken tooth was already making
her self conscious. Ladle usually prided herself on not being
vain, though the truth was, being beautiful, she could afford to
give up on vanity. But now, she promised herself that she would
simply not smile during her visit to Mrs. Gujranwala. If the
womanwho would be, what? seventy-five? eighty?was still
alive, that is. She didn't allow herself to think of what they'd do
if Ishtar's mother had died or moved.
She heard Dish enter the bedroom and the next second he
stood before her, leaning into the door frame of the bathroom
and gazing quizzically at her. "You okay, janu? "
She nodded, smiling with her mouth closed. "I'm fine."
"Sure you don't want me to go with you today? I could leave
work for a few"
"No need to. We'll manage. I'll call you if there's anything."
He ran his index finger gently over her lips. "Shall I call
Sarosh to see if he can fit you in later this afternoon? "
"That would be great."
"Because you remember the party tonight, yes? I'm sure Sarosh
can make you a temporary crown."
"Oh, shit. I totally forgot." She made a pleading face. "Can't
you just go without me? "
In reply, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "Bye. Let
me know what happens."
She grumbled lightly to herself as she got her things ready
for her bath. Adish knew how much she hated his work parties,
how lonely the empty prattlethe fake heartiness and
fake humilitymade her feel. They almost always fought on
the way home from one of these affairs. And yet he persisted
in asking her to go. Last week, after Kavita got held up at
work, she had dragged Adish to a play, and in exchange he had
extracted a promise to accompany him to Girish Chandani's
Ah well, Laleh thought as she entered the shower. There were
more important things to think about this morning. Nishta, for
instance. They had to find Nishta. To relay to her Armaiti's
final wish. Even though there had been years of silence between
Armaiti and her. Even though such a wish may mean nothing
to Nishta. Even though she had disappeared from all their lives,
leaving only still air in her wake.
Kavita was driving, and, watching her steady, competent hands
on the wheel, Laleh smiled to herself. She remembered Kavita
as she'd been in college, a shy, dreamy girl who carried her guitar
around everywhere. Hard to believe that that poetic, pensive
girl was now one of the top architects in the city. Laleh sank into
the leather seat and sighed inaudibly, feeling a lifetime removed
from the young, impetuous, idealistic woman she'd been. From
the time when Kavita-Armaiti-Nishta had been one word in her
book, one beating heart. Where were they all now? One dying
in America, one missing, and only Kavita still in her life.
"What? " said Kavita, ever attuned to Laleh's moods.
Laleh shook her head, unable to speak, her mind snagging
on the memory of a certain golden afternoon. They had gotten
together at Nishta's house to study, but what Laleh remembered
now was the four of them lying on their backs on Nishta's bed,
their knees bent at its edge, so that their feet touched the floor.
"Those Were the Days" blasted on the stereo and they sang along
lustily and loudly. "La la la la, la la," they sang at the top of their
lungs, kicking their legs in time to the music. And suddenly,
Armaiti had leapt out of bed and began to dance, dance with such
loose, comic abandonher hair flying about, tossing her head
back and forth, flaying her rubber-jointed arms and legsthat
the others rose to their feet and joined her. By the time the song
ended, they were all laughing and sweating and exhausted. And
then, as if she'd not been the agent of all this happy chaos,
Armaiti said critically, "What a morbid song, yaar."
"What're you thinking?" Kavita asked.
"Nothing. Everything. About how young we were once."
Kavita looked rueful. "Know what's really sad? I used to
think that everybody had that much fun in their teens. That
everyone had the kind of friendships we did, felt as much passion
"I didn't," Laleh said promptly. "I always knew what we had
was rare. Always. Even then. My own children don't have it, Ka.
They have lots of friends, don't get me wrong. But it feels
superficial to me. All they talk about are iPhones and designer jeans.
And they want nothing to do with politics. It's crazy."
"It's a different time, Lal. They're growing up in a different
"Bull. That's what Adish says, also. But what's changed, Kavita?
All the old struggles are still there, no? So they build a few
dozen new malls for people like us. What does that change? "
How her father used to scoff at her and Armaiti when they
would talk about building a better country. "A new India? "
Rumi Madan would thunder at the dinner table after listening
to the two teenagers talk matter-of-factly about the imminent
revolution. "What do you girls think this is, a school play? What
'new India' are you two going to build? Darlings, if there is to be
a new India, it will be built by the politicians and the businessmen.
Above all, the businessmen. Not by a couple of little girls
pretending to be revolutionaries."
Laleh blinked back the tears that rose unexpectedly. Ever
since the phone call from Armaiti, the past had become more
vivid than the present. She had sleepwalked through the past
few days, unable to focus on anything.
And now, the past loomed again, in the form of Nishta's old
apartment building. A thousand memories flooded Laleh's mind
as Kavita searched for a parking space on the tree-lined street.
And although she had felt a great urgency to locate Nishta's parents
ever since Armaiti had called with the news, Laleh now felt
herself moving slowly, as they exited the car and walked toward
the building. When they reached the entrance, she and Kavita
stood wordlessly for a second. Then Kavita exhaled loudly and
they entered the familiar lobby. Their eyes scanned the large
wooden board for the Lokhanwalas' flat number. "Look," Laleh
said. "They're still here. Thank God."
"The lobby still smells the same," Kavita said, and Laleh nodded
as they approached the elevator. "Yup. Like sandalwood."
They rang the doorbell twice before the servant girl
answered. "Hello. Is memsahib home? " Kavita asked.
"Kavita hesitated. "Just tell her . . . it's some old friends."
The girl threw them a skeptical look before putting on the
"Yes?" A wizened face peered out at them a few seconds later
from the slight opening in the door. "How can I help? "
"Auntie, it's usKavita and Laleh. Nishta's college friends.
You remember us? "
There was a puzzled silence and then the old woman cried
out softly. There was a rustling of the chain before she threw the
door open. "Kavita. Laleh. I cannot believe. What brings you
here? Come in, come in."
A minute later they were sitting across from Mrs. Lokhanwala
in her large, airy living room, the three of them staring at
each other, all of them too polite to comment on the changes
time had wrought. "What will you take? " the old lady said at
last. "Coffee? Tea?" And before they could answer she was calling
out, "Deepa. Bring three cups of coffee. And some snacks."
"Auntie, please. Don't go to any trouble," Laleh said. Her
mind was whirling, trying to reconcile the fact that the stylish,
trim Mrs. Lokhanwalahad they ever known her first
name?was now an old lady. The living room itself looked
frozen in timethe same cream-colored walls, the gray floor tile,
the beautiful teak rocking chair.
"My God, you two look just the same," Mrs. Lokhanwala
said. "I would've recognized you anywhere."
They smiled shyly. "You, too," Kavita lied. "And what news
of Nishta? "
At the mention of her daughter's name, a curtain fell over the
old woman's face. The smile vanished. Her eyes turned cloudy.
"You don't know? " she whispered.
Laleh leaned forward. "Know what? " she said.
"We don't have any contact with her. My husbandhe for-
bade any relations. She married a Muslim boy, you know."
Laleh realized that she'd been holding her breath. "Yes, we
know," she said. "Iqbal was a friend of ours." She forced herself
to keep her tone neutral. "We had hoped that after all this time,
you know, that there might have been a reconciliation."
Despite her tact, the older woman recoiled, as if she'd been
slapped. She stared out at the balcony for a minute before turning
to face them again. "What brings you here today?" And before
they could answer, "And whatever happened to that other
Parsi girlthe fourth one? What was her name? "
"Armaiti," Kavita said.
"Ah, yes. So much I've thought about all of you over the
years." Mrs. Lokhanwala smiled. "So lively our house used to
be, with all of you here." Her face fell. "Now it's just me and my
husband, you know. Our sonyou remember Arun?is
settled in Australia. Anyway, how is Armaiti? You see her often? "
"Fine," Laleh said automatically and then she caught herself.
"Actually, auntie, she's not fine. She lives in America, you
know. And"it was still hard to say the words, but she forced
herself"we just found out that she has a serious illnessa
"Arre, Ram" Mrs. Lokhanwala's hand flew to her mouth.
"How could that be? That sweet little girl? "
For a moment Laleh saw Armaiti as Mrs. Lokhanwala did
a teenager forever. She swallowed. "Yes, well . . . And that's
why we're trying to find Nishta. Armaiti wants to reconnect
with her, you see."
The woman's face was impassive. "I wish I could help you,"
Laleh suppressed the wave of anger that rose within her.
"Does Nishta never try to contact you, either? " she asked evenly.
Mrs. Lokhanwala's eyes darted around the room. "Every
year she sends me a birthday card," she said. "But my husband
doesn't allow me to open. I just throw it away. Or return it."
Laleh stared at a spot over the old woman's left shoulder. She
had saved every note her children had ever written her, from
kindergarten on. She tried to imagine throwing away a birthday
card from Ferzin or Farhad, asked herself what the children
could ever do that would make her renounce them. She couldn't
come up with one plausible scenario.
The servant girl came in with a tray and set it carefully down
in front of them. Laleh grabbed Kavita's arm and pulled her to
her feet as she stood up. "I'm sorry, but we have to go," she said.
She wanted to get away from Mrs. Lokhanwala's presence before
she said something that she would regret.
"At least have a cup of coffee," Mrs. Lokhanwala protested,
but her voice was drained, flat, and there was a look of
understanding on her face.
"I'm sorry, auntie," Laleh insisted. "We are already late." She
would be damned if she took a sip of anything in this household.
Kavita took a few steps to where Mrs. Lokhanwala was sitting
and put her hand on her shoulder. "It was nice seeing you
again," she said softly. "Both of us have such good memories of
Laleh felt a faint flush on her cheeks, reading a rebuke of her
rude behavior in Kavita's thoughtfulness.
Mrs. Lokhanwala took Kavita's hand in both of hers. "I know
it must seem strange," she began, but Kavita was already
Excerpted from The World We Found by Thirty Umrigar Copyright © 2012 by Thirty Umrigar. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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