As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But over the past thirty years, the quartet has drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.
Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter, fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms.
The World We Found is a dazzling masterwork from the remarkable Thrity Umrigar, offering an unforgettable portrait of modern India while it explores the enduring bonds of friendship and the power of love to change lives.
About the Author
Thrity Umrigaris the author of five novels and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. A former journalist, she is a winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and 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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What People are Saying About This
“Asparkling and sharp slice of life.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent, well paced and thoughtful,I was aware throughout how lucky woman are in this country to be able to make decisions for themselves and how careful one must be with their vote so that doesn't change.
I feel like the author has lived every word of what she writes. Her characters are real and even if you are not familiar with the customs or places you can imagine them to be true.
Well written and thought provoking. If you have ever wondered about the passions and causes you felt as a young adult and wondered what happened to them - this is the book to make you ponder the question even more.
This is a beautiful story about friendship, written with such insight and empathy. Although about four female friends, I found that the male characters, Iqbal and Adish, were just as interesting as the female characters. I think this is one of the best books I have read this year, and I learned so much about Indian society in the 1970s and today.
I enjoyed the book, it just ended too soon. I hope there will be a sequel
This is one of those books where the location, India, was one of the main characters. In fact, the lesson in cultural differences was what I liked most about the book. I thought the ending was too abrupt. The plot seemed to build and then the story just ended. The word "cliffhanger" comes to mind. But, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book and was involved with the characters. I do wonder what Muslims would think of the way they are portrayed.
There were four university students, Laleh, Nishta, Kavita and Armaiti who became close friends. They had protested against authority and tried to make a better world back in the 1970s in Bombay. The book lets you know a little bit about each of their past as you learn about their present lives. Armaiti had been hurt in one of the protests and Laleh has always blamed herself for leaving. She thought she should have been there to protect Armaiti who ended up in the hospital with a concussion. Thirty years later, Armaiti called Laleh to ask if all of her friends could come to America to see her. She was terminally ill with a brain tumor. Armaiti had married Richard, an American. They were divorced now and she had a daughter in Harvard but they were both back home with her now. She had refused treatment and they wanted to be with her in her last days. Armaiti wanted Diane her daughter to meet her friends. Laleh and Adish were very well off financially and children. She had lost contact with Armaiti but still felt close to her and guilty for not protecting her. Adish is called Mr. Fixit by people at work and even his family and he is very important later on in the book. Kavita is well known architect who remained single. She used to carry her guitar with her all the time and still lived with her mother. She had always had a crush on Armaiti but had never revealed her secret. Lately she was seeing a beautiful tall German woman that she met through work. Nishta had always been exuberant and happy in college but now was married to Muslim and he forced to wear a burka and only saw her in-laws as her parents had disowned her. Her world has become much smaller than when she was in the university. Thirty Umrigar weaves together the lives of the women beautifully. There are little places where explains some of the cultural differences and gives a little bit of history but this does not interfere with the story. This is a story of friendship, forgiveness, independence and suspense. She is truly a great storyteller. Now I want to read other books by her. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in women¿s friendships and India. I received this book from the Amazon Vine program but that in no way influenced my review.
In the late 1970's Laleh, Kavita, Nishta, and Armaiti, were idealistic young students protesting the political conditions in India, passionate about their beliefs and seemingly willing to risk everything to see equality for India's religious and economic minorities. Thirty years later they are all living different lives then they imagined and they haven't stayed the close-knit group they once were. When Armaiti learns she is dying her last wish is to have all of her friends together again. But the reunion opens old wounds and brings to life carefully hidden secrets. Each of the women is forced to examine the life she is living and compare it to her past dreams and ambitions. How do you reconcile the present with the wild, ambitious plans you made in college?This is the first book by Thrity Umrigar that I have read, but it won't be the last. Each of the women in this book was interesting and likeable, though all were very different. The contrast of their differences alongside the obvious similarities that made them friends gave the story a very realistic depth and added layers to the plot. The World We Found was the best of both worlds, an easy read that made me think - about India, politics, and most of all how the idealism of university days fades into the reality of middle age forcing each person to hold strong to their ideals while bending them to fit ever changing lives and circumstances. In the end it was an eye-opening, yet lovely read about friendship, change, and growing up.
Not as good as her other novels, but still a recommended read if you like to multicultural literature.
What a terrifically engaging read. Covers so many different aspects of life, like friendship, political activism, how and why people change, how they lie to themselves to stay with something that is not working. This book could have easily been maudlin and sad, concerning a group of four women who had been great friends and had drifted apart yet come together again when one falls ill, but instead it is a poignant and interesting story. Taught me things I didnt know, about Bombay, India and the 1993 riots between the Hindus and the Muslims, about the Indian culture and how important the little things in life are. Now I need to go back and read previous books by this author because her writing as quite won me over.
A story of friends that reconnect years later after one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is set in India and is the first I have read about that country. That alone was of interest to me. The actual story could be set in any country in the world. It is a story about making decisions and re-examining your life and the possibility of making a new start.
I loved this book. The relationships of the women, their families and society at large were well-conceived, believable and engrossing. It is one of those rare, wonderful books that traps you: on the one hand, you want to return to reading, because you want to be a part of that world; on the other, you want to slow yourself down, because every word brings you closer to the end.It is one of the 15 or so books I have won through the GoodReads first reader program. It is, far and away, the best.
This is a beautiful story about friendship, written with such insight and empathy. Although about four female friends, I found that the male characters, Iqbal and Adish, were just as interesting as the female characters.I think this is one of the best books I have read this year, and I learned so much about Indian society in the 1970s and today.
A disappointing read. I was eager to read since each of the women's character seemed so appealing.Midway, the novel spiraled out of control. The book focused on one woman's effort to escape her marriage. I sloughed towards the end but it was a complete waste of time. No more Thrity
In the late 70's in Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita and Nishta were inseperable university students. They were part of the protest movement, but then ended up going in different directions. Some 25 or 30 years later, Armaiti calls everyone to tell them she is dying of cancer and wants to see all of them. She has moved to America.The other two agree immediately and then have to find Nishta, whose husband is a devout Muslim and has become autocratic, forcing her to convert and treating her like property. They arrange for Nishta to go against his wishes, and her intent is to not return. In the meantime, Armaiti is getting worse, and has decided she doesn't want to die--unfortunately,she has not control over this. This is a beautiful book--well written with strong character development. It gives a picture of the Muslim divide even in India and the conflict between husband and wife over religion and politics.
Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta all college friends and young activists. They soon find out that youth can betray and blindside you and life pushes through and begins to happen. Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta remained in Bombay while Armaiti decides to leave for America. Over the years marriages take place, children are born, and the distance between them begins to grow. When Armaiti is diagnosed with terminal cancer they all are summoned for a reunion. This request conjures up different emotions in them all. For Laleh it is old guilt she has disguised for years. The feelings Kavita has hid shamefully for years resurface. For Nishta it is the beginning of a new life.Each of these women have a unique life story that holds our attention throughout the narrative. Even though Armaiti's illness is grave Umrigar never allows the reader to get "in their feelings" because she always bring to light the joy of the friendships. The author deals with the social ills of the culture but Umrigar does an amazing job of portraying the heart of a wife dealing with a devoted Muslim husband in Nishta. Nishta's story was the highlight of the novel for me. It was as if she was buried alive in a marriage to her college sweetheart who had turned into a different man over the years. The World We Found shows that real friendships can heal and redeem.I must admit that I did not really start enjoying The World We Found until I was about halfway in. I still don't understand why the author divided the book into two parts the time frame did not change at all. Overall, I loved the balance of the book and how real these women were. Umrigar developed female characters that any woman can relate to no matter what country they live in.
Edging towards fifty, Armaiti has just found out she has terminal cancer. Her last wish is for one last get-together with her three best friends from college - Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta. College students in 1970s India, the once-inseparable group of four were Socialists, campaigning for a better India that they eventually moved away from in marriage and family. The friends have changed over the past few decades and each harbor their own little secrets about their college days and aftermaths, and gathering the other three to come to America, where Armaiti moved, may prove more difficult than thought and open up questions of friendship, love, and the past.The World We Found is a great read on several levels: a chick-lit novel exploring friendship, an examination of the changes in Indian society between the 1970s and now, a middle-age retrospection on youth. The four women have moved into diverse lives. Armaiti married (and divorced) a wealthy American; Laleh has a comfortable life with her Indian husband; Kavita, an architect, is finally ready for her friends to meet her lesbian lover; Nishta's once-Socialist husband has become a conservative Muslim who keeps his wife tethered to the home.Despite the prolific dialogue and range of high emotions, Umrigar's writing is always smooth, never stilted as is a common fallacy in such novels. I was surprised at how easy a read this was for me due to the graceful flow of the story. Each facet of the plot is examined equally and adequately, and evident behind the heartwarming friendship tale is the exploration of Indian society, Hindu-Muslim relations, and the effect of the past on the present. The only thing in which the novel disappointed me was the way a certain situation was handled, by pitting religious stereotypes onto a Muslim, though this was duly discussed.Nishta's side of the story reminded me of the plot of a Victorian "New Woman" novel - female is somehow restrained by a repressive society, comes to a crisis point, which path will she decide to take? Interesting how a common motif of American literature a century ago occurs now in a novel about Muslim India.
Oh my, where do I start? I loved this book so much but I don't want to gush too much and ruin the story for you. Ms. Umrigar is a master of character development. Each character was multidimensional. Nishta's husband Iqbal is a Muslim fundamentalist and as a secondary character could have easily been portrayed as a stereotype. But even he has unexpected yet realistic motivations for his actions.The relationship between the four women was wonderful and complex. The prose was beautifully descriptive. I loved everything about this book and I highly recommend it.