Daunt Books (2015), 240 pages
A Christmas Present
One Point Two Billion is a fascinating look into the multiple worlds that occupy modern India. The thirteen short stories in Rao’s collection cover India’s diverse geography, cultural mores, economic status, and social roles.
Rao’s strongest stories are those with the more understated plots. The opening story, Eternal Bliss, features Bindu, a woman who struggles to cope with her anxieties while working in a yoga centre. Rao highlights the uneasy interaction between Indians and foreign visitors and pokes fun at both sides. He also uses the arrival of inspectors from the Department of Culture to highlight endemic corruption. Rao’s Joycean epiphany is fantastic.
Personally I was not so keen on the stories, although well written, with more shocking endings. The subtle approach of Eternal Bliss, The Trouble with Dining Out (two wealthy couples struggle to cope with the underlying sexual tension), Suzie Baby (about an ageing Bollywood star), and Fizz Pop Ah (which follows the fortunes of an Indian cola company and a family that worked there) were more to my liking.
One Point Two Billion deals with multiple issues; corruption, westernisation, attempts to conceal the mistreatment of Dalits, army abuses in Naxalite areas, the rise of the super rich in India, and censorship in Kashmir (in the excellent Minu Goyari Day). Rao’s book covers a lot of ground and offers the reader thirteen little windows into the lives of some of India’s one point two billion people.