The Sari of Surya Vilas by Vayu Naidu

Category: Fiction/ Historical
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

‘Allarmelu took out the sari that belonged to her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother before that. All she wanted now was not a long chain of dead mothers but her mother, alive. She breathed deep, hoping for a waft of her mother’s musk. But this sari did not have the fragrance of sandalwood and frankincense mixed with turmeric. Her heart skipped a beat. [...] The sari n her lap was an imposter!’

1909: Allarmelu is nine years old when her mother dies, leaving her in Surya Vilas, the family home, now a world of spinster aunts and men. When she discovers that her mother’s wedding sari, an heirloom passed from mother to daughter, is missing, Allarmelu must track it down – without revealing that it was stolen by a family member. Tracing the sari sends her into a world never mentioned in genteel company, of exotic Russian dancers and unacknowledged mistresses. But puberty and a changing urban landscape of Madras make Allarmelu challenge the complacent silences of family and British rule alike.

1857: Sari looms are set alight on the Coromandel Coast and weavers murdered. The East India Company ships an orphaned girl to England, to work as a governess. Born Chandrika, and converted to Christina, she carries a sari woven with symbols of an incendiary past that she must strive to forget. However, she finds the words to narrate her experiences through working for the Philological Society, leaving a secret that will only be unravelled in the next century.

In her new novel, Vayu Naidu tells the poignant story of a woman finding her voice against the backdrop of family secrets, betrayals and promises. In a compelling narrative, rich with period detail, The Sari of Surya Vilas traces the silenced voices of marginalized people across Madras and the Deccan, who nevertheless left a mark on history-woven, told and snug, woven and passed on, bearing the residue of their passionate experiences.