The novel “Arzu” by Riva Razdan follows the protagonist Arzu, the pampered daughter of a newspaper mogul, living in Bombay. It is 1991, and India’s economy is opening up to foreign investment for the very first time.
After being dumped by her long-time boyfriend, a heartbroken Arzu escapes to New York with her haughty aunt Parul. While Parul Bua’s one-point agenda is to fix her up with a suitable match, Arzu, revelling in the heady independence that New York offers, finds herself poised on the brink of an idea that could change the nature of an entire industry back home.
As Arzu negotiates catty debutante ball drama and evades the charms of her father’s smug protégé, she must prove her worth to investors so as to silence her critics. But can someone who has always played second fiddle to the men in her life discover how to become the heroine of her own story?
Read an excerpt from the book below.
‘Can you stay a little while longer?’ Arzu asked suddenly.
‘There’s someone I’d like you to meet.’
Siddhant’s expression instantly became wary. He sat up straighter, curious. ‘Who?’
‘Meet me at the Fifth Avenue entrance of Central Park at 5.30 p.m.?’ Arzu got up, gathering her books and picnic blanket.
‘What if I can’t find you?’
‘I’ll be out front. Look for the girl with three cups of coffee,’ Arzu said, her eyes dancing with her secret.
Siddhant tried to smother the excitement that rose within him when she looked at him with her teasing dimples. He tried not to notice the attractive way her skirt swayed around her small waist as she turned on her heel to go to class. After all, she was more than just a girl. She was Ajit Agarwal’s daughter,who was only beginning to understand the world for herself. Siddhant wanted to be her friend, as she did it, not a predator. He was above the Aditya Prabhus and Rohit Gargs of the world who looked at women as decorative icing to be slurped at will. Yet he couldn’t shake the memory of her face,pink with excitement, as she drove them to Pune. And pink, yet again, as she spoke of her classes at college, of the cycle of intrigue and discovery when it came to writing her article. If he was wise he wouldn’t appear at Central Park that evening. Yet, if there was a friend with them, he thought, there could be no harm in taking a stroll together.
Unless that friend was the much-famed Rohit Garg, whom Siddhant knew he would not be able to tolerate,especially if he started to behave proprietorially with Arzu. Nevertheless, he went to the park. He wanted to size up the latest man vying for her attention, hoping to make her mistress of his home and rearer of his children.
Siddhant’s curiosity was not satisfied because there, at the park’s entrance, was Arzu, standing with a white girl who had a sweet expression, holding a cone of warm peanuts and three cups of coffee. Siddhant smiled as he crossed the street to reach them. The girls were already in passionate discussion about something, chatting with ferocity, as though trying to cram their time together with as much news of the other as possible. The young, white girl stopped momentarily only to say a cursory hello to Siddhant before launching back into conversation.
Arzu handed Siddhant his coffee. The only other acknowledgement Siddhant got was an indication for him to start walking with them as they chatted. He was part of the activity, but unable to contribute yet.
Arzu and her friend spoke too fast, and with too much vigour for him to get a word in edgeways. He would have to listen and earn his place in this conversation.
‘Arzu, you have to make an appearance. The flu excuse has run its course. Mme Vivienne is threatening to call your aunt to check upon your health if you don’t show up to class tomorrow.’
‘You would think she would be happy I’m not attending school. She wanted me expelled in any case! Doesn’t the stupid woman realize that this way she both gets the money and doesn’t have to bother making me a lady?’
‘I think she thinks of you as her cross to bear now. If she can tame the manners of someone like you, then she can make a debutante out of anyone.’
‘Ugh, why does the witch want to be fairy godmother all of a sudden? That’s not how the fairy tale works. Bippity boppity buzzoff.’
‘Well you’re hardly Cinderella,’ Siddhant shrugged, finally getting a word in.
Arzu grinned at him. ‘Siddhant always has to have the last word, Sarah.’
‘Occupational hazard,’ he smiled at her.
‘He’s a foreign correspondent for Indian Ink.’
‘Are you doing a piece about New York?’ Sarah asked, shaking his hand as they walked over the first bridge.
‘No, I’m actually doing a piece on the Indian business lobbies in Washington. Arzu’s uncle is organizing a conference to get companies in DC interested in setting up shop in India, now that our markets are opening up to the world.’
‘Really?’ Arzu turned to him with sharp curiosity. ‘I had no idea.’
‘Yes. It looks promising. We’ve set up meetings with state department officials to understand what the current trade relations are and how to strengthen the ties between our countries.’
‘That would be fantastic! We need more IT companies. And media networks too,’ Arzu said enthusiastically. ‘Just think of the number of jobs it will create. ABC and Warner Brothers each have a net worth that is more than the GDP of some states in India. Can you imagine if they actually think of investing in us?’
Siddhant nodded, grinning. ‘It would certainly change things back at home.’
‘What is it like now?’ Sarah asked. Arzu shook her head morosely.
‘Hardly anyone has a computer. If you want information about things, you have to go to the library you’re a member of and pray they have a copy of whatever it is you are looking for. We have two television channels, Sarah. One for the news and another for shows. Oh my–’ Arzu said, suddenly realizing what this meant for her, for her father and his business.
‘There will be more news channels now!’ she said. ‘People will get their news like they do here, from a television that is switched on all the time. Not from a newspaper that is only delivered in the morning. Daddy will have to start switching! Or at least–’
‘That’s if the laws are changed enough to allow all these companies to invest in India,’ Siddhant pointed out.
‘What do you mean? Liberalization has begun, hasn’t it?’
‘Yes. But the process has been slow. Each piece of red tape that gets cut is a victory. The opposition is still quite strong. There are some…older business families who are still campaigning harder than ever to introduce protectionist policies for Indian entrepreneurs.’ Siddhant glanced at Arzu as he spoke.
Her face, which had been filled with a fire of indignation moments ago, was suddenly drained of expression. She knew who he was referring to, and she appreciated his tact in not explicitly abusing him in front of her. She didn’t want to think of Aditya nor of the role he had to play in all this just yet.
‘They’re fools,’ she said with a muted fury in her voice. Her research over the last few weeks, her extensive reading of the inventions and possibilities of the internet had informed her opinion. Arzu had begun to realize just how wrong Aditya had been. The extent to which his selfishness and the selfishness of families like his could harm the interests of India’s forward thinkers. She was ashamed to have been part of his lobby, to have served tea as he protested against the values she had been brought up with.
‘Creating a market hospitable to global interest is the only way to join the world. India needs to be connected to news, businesses and opportunities beyond our borders.’
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