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Bombay Time



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About The Author

Thrity UmrigarThrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar grew up in Bombay, India. A recipient of the Neiman Fellowship at Harvard, she writes for the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, and she is a contributor to the Boston Globe. She lives in Kent, Ohio.

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Reading Group Gold

Discussion Questions

1. “Bombay is awake.” So reads the first sentence of the Prologue. Consider the city of

Bombay as if it were a character in this novel. Discuss the physical terminology and

emotional terrain assigned to it. How is the city described in these pages—and to what

end, or for what purpose, is it rendered in this manner? And how is modern-day Bombay

perceived by the book’s main characters?

2. Almost all of those who live in Wadia Baug, the apartment building that is the ongoing

backdrop and Main Street of Bombay Time, are Parsis. Reading the novel, what did you

learn about the cultural values, family beliefs, religious rites, cooking practices, economic

status, and/or speaking habits of the Indian ethnic minority known as the Parsi? Talk

about the role played by these customs, traditions, and characteristics within the larger

framework of the novel. DO they serve any purpose apart from adding detail or realism to

the narrative?

3. Though set in the Bombay of today, this book could be considered a kind of historical

novel. Discuss the ways in which it is informed by historical events, trends, and figures.

For starters, how do the main characters regard India’s colonial past? And how do they

regard Great Britain more generally? What about America? Nehru? Gandhi? The

partition conflicts between the Muslims and Hindus? Hitler’s war against the Jews? And

any other such historical phenomena?

4. Why is gossip so important to so many of the characters in this story? What dose this

habit say about these characters, and about the social realm they inhabit?

5. A vast, far-reaching drama with a broad array of players and scenes, Bombay Time has all

the tragedy and comedy of life itself. Here are thus a number of stories within this story,

and many if not most of them are love stories. And not just romantic love, but all kinds of

care and affection. Discuss the variety of such moments—as they are shared between

friends and lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children—and try to pinpoint certain

relationships and situations as representative or otherwise relevant to the novel’s air of

human tenderness and closeness.

6. Why do you think the novel begins and ends with the thoughts of Rusi Bilimoria? Talk

about what he is thinking, feeling, remembering, and living with at these two distinct

moments. How, if at all, can his perspective be seen as the primary voice or intelligence

of the novel?

7. Near the beginning of Chapter Nine—just before Rusi’s long speech to the newlyweds—

Coomi Bilimoria and Soli Contractor offer differing views on the topic of growing older.

Examine the particulars of this brief but significant disagreement, illuminating the view

held by each as well astehr easons and motivations behind their views. What is the gist of

their opposition, and how does this opposition reflect the main themes of Bombay Time?

8. Author Thrity Umrigar—who, like most of the characters in her novel—grew up in

middle-class Bombay during the latter half of the twentieth century, recently stated the

follwing in an interview: “I think the best writing is when you write about a specific

thing, but somehow you give it enough universality that everybody can relate to it.” Do

you think this remark can be successfully applied to Bombay Time? Explain.

9. Late in the narrative, just before the beginning of Chapter Ten, we meet two lesser yet

pivotal characters, Baba and Bhima. Who are they? How doe they affect the novel’s plot,

tone, and meaning? Were you surprised by the appearance of these characters? Or by

their actions? Explain why or why not. Also, why do you think Umrigar included them in

the first place? And why did she introduce them at this particular point in the story?

10. This book is rife with flashbacks—defining past experiences, richly telling diversions,

personally revealing memories, and so on—but it is squarely set in the present: the

wedding celebration of Mehernosh and Sharon Kanga. Discuss in detail the chronological

mosaic of the novel. Why is it structured in this way? How does this structure relate to

the novel’s key concepts, especially as articulated in the final paragraphs? Explore the

meaning(s) of the novel’s title.

 

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