I woke this morning to the news that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has died, at the age of 85 in her Manhattan apartment. I read Heat and Dust, her Booker-winning novel, during my school days - graphic, messy, lyrical, it snared me. So much so that when I was writing my debut novel, Earning the Laundry Stripes, Jhabvala's seminal book came to me.
ETLS is the story of a young woman's first year as the first woman Area Sales Manager - selling sabun-chai-tel in the Indian hinterland, Noor Bhalla has several adventures featuring goats as bus companions, Schwarznegger-idolizing distributors, gratis matrimonial advice, a shady cop...
In an early scene Noor is travelling by bus in arid Vidarbha in sizzling May after a misadventure. "My mulmul dupatta covered my head and most of my face. Behind my spectacles, hot tears threatened to spill and completely ruin an already bad day. To distract myself, I concentrated on the terrain, reminding myself that everything was new, that I had never before travelled this tract of land...
Yet, it all looked and seemed familiar. Heat and Dust. Heat&Dust. H&D.
That wonderfully succinct descriptor of India - heat and dust - to which Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has forever lain claim by her Booker Prize-winner, denying future writers the ability to so pithily sum up the great Indian countryside."
RIP Ruth and know, you rocked this writer's world!
P.S. The Guardian carries Ms Jhabvala's obituary - read it for insight into the writer and for a master class in writing!