Book review: The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran

Bangalore... southern India’s entrepreneurial boom city where tradition and technology, ancient cultures and industrial conglomerates, urban grime and suburban grace rub along together amidst a teeming mass of humanity.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 14th May 2013, 10:00 am
The Hope Factory
The Hope Factory

India’s third most populous city is a modern wonder, a newly industrialised metropolis where development has brought a new sense of vitality and confidence but also ushered in huge social and economic problems.

And in India, when ambition, crime, murky politics and the lust for land collide, the fall-out can be both disastrous... and dangerous.

The Hope Factory, Lavanya Sankaran’s exhilarating debut novel, takes us deep into the fast beating heart of her tumultuous home city to bring us this clever portrayal of two very different families coping with the growing pains of modern India.

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And it’s a fascinating story told with beautifully crafted, multi-layered prose, an observant eye for the mundane detail of everyday life, some wickedly witty dialogue and genuine insight into what it means to live in such a vast, complex society.

Anand K. Murthy is the owner of Cauvery Auto, a car parts manufacturing company which was built painstakingly over the years through his own sweat and toil. He is rich, has married well, has two children and is considered to be one of Bangalore’s success stories.

As an Indian industrial pioneer, Anand has survived an unimaginably hostile world, not least the Indian government, ‘a strange, cavernous beast that lay hidden in grottoes and leapt out, tentacles, flailing, suckers greedy for bribes.’

And if he is to clinch a deal with a Japanese car manufacturer, which would transform his family’s lives and ease his ongoing financial struggles, he is going to need at least ten more acres of land, and finding land in an endless city of claustrophobic human habitation, ‘wishful architecture and denuded finances’ is like looking for gold dust.

Meanwhile Kamala, Anand’s family’s maid, exists at the other end of the social spectrum and perilously close to the edge of disaster. She and her clever, resourceful teenage son Narayan live in one room with a shared tap, bath and toilet, and own virtually nothing.

But both are ambitious, Kamala for her son’s future and Narayan to make money fast and easily. Their small hopes for self-betterment depend on the contentment of Anand’s wife Vidya, a selfish and capricious woman whose life is led through the ‘social arteries’ of her mobile phone.

And there are other complications in the lives of both Anand and Kamala. Narayan keeps bad company and Anand’s marriage is in trouble. Before long, their opposite worlds will collide in ways that are both unexpected and perilous...

The Hope Factory is more than just another story of a city and a country in the grip of massive change... it reveals how ordinary people face up to the challenges of a society in which many of its moral building blocks have disappeared, the gap between rich and poor has become a yawning chasm and where dreams of enrichment have become all-consuming.

Sankaran allows her modern morality tale to unfold with drama, humour, an irrepressible sense of irony and a subtle poignancy which moves and delights in equal measures.

But she also tells us loudly, clearly and with real affection that India is still a country where family life rules and where providing the best possible future for your children is the overriding ambition of parents whatever their social background.

A warm, revealing and entertaining debut.

(Tinder Press, hardback, £14.99)