India is the second most populous country on this planet, with the world’s largest democracy—yet most conversations about India seem to dance around its spicy food or perhaps a yearning for a spiritual voyage. Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society adds something fresh, funny and insightful to the age-old chatter about this fascinating country by detailing the world of the uber-rich who call it home.
Channeling his love for Jane Austen’s commentary and observations on relationships, society and power, Rao’s American debut takes us into the inner sanctum of 20-something Ania Khurana, who is a member of the wealthiest upper echelon of the capital city of Delhi (and perhaps all of India). Ania’s life resembles that of a Hollywood celebrity, complete with designer clothes, lavish parties and paparazzi. Born into privilege, Ania is an aspiring author whose motivation is slightly lacking. Her newest obsession is playing matchmaker for her muse and friend, Dimple, who is neither rich nor privileged. In Ania, we see some of the same qualities that make Austen’s Emma so irresistible: She’s self-absorbed yet compassionate, impatient yet persistent.
Supporting characters (such as Ania’s widowed father, Dileep; Ania’s childhood friend Dev, who is least affected by his wealth; the fame-chasing reporter Fahim; and a bevy of women of a certain age) complete a picture of what it’s like to chase happiness in a society riddled with codes and an endless supply of money.
Hilarious, scandalous and fascinating, Polite Society adds an interesting, modern layer to a complex culture.