Finding Sita

Review of Chai for Beginners… A Novel; Jane Ainslie; Rupa; pp 194; Rs 195

– Shana Susan Ninan

Chai (tea) is served to guests as a welcome drink, hot and sometimes with variations (masala, green, butter, etc.). This drink helps people to warm up to each other, open up conversations, and sometimes hearts, and makes way for great interaction. Jane Ainslie’s Chai For Beginners is a fictional work of a woman’s journey across continents and a journey unto herself, too. Sita Sinclair has just been dumped, lost her job and accommodation and desperately needs to start afresh.

She gets a new job, place to stay and also finds romance again. At her new place, she befriends (rather, she’s befriended by) her neighbour, Mrs Sharma. The two of them exchange views on life, and from her Sita learns about her namesake in Ramayana. Once they get close, Mrs Sharma expresses her desire to visit Varanasi. In the middle of her children’s refusal to allow her to travel with Sita to India, Mrs Sharma passes away. Sita is left alone, but she makes up her mind to visit the country alone and to carry her friend’s ashes to the Ganges.

Sita sees, smells and experiences India for the very first time on this journey, and she’s not too pleased with it. But for us Indians, the overdose of cows and their droppings on the road, the pan-reeking streets or the loud and brash roadside Romeos are not so alarming. Jane has portrayed very well how a typical first-time foreigner feels in India. Her trip to the Ganges is presented with good insights.

Jane’s book is spirited and colourful, an easy read and makes for a good companion for our morning chai. Sita Sinclair is every woman on the planet who has suffered humiliation and dejection, is constantly pressured into pre-defined societal roles and bound by male prejudices. Sita is also today’s modern woman who is independent, opinionated and forward-looking. I’m sure almost all the female readers of this novel will be able to relate to Sita’s fears, anxieties and apprehensions as well as her new-found happiness and relief.

Sita’s character – almost throughout the book – is always pining about the man who dumped her and her feelings (anger, anguish) for him. I wish it had stopped by the time she started moving on. Also, Mrs Sharma seems to pop in and out of Sita’s life too soon. Her character could have been shaped better.

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Rating: 7.4/10 (9 votes cast)
Finding Sita, 7.4 out of 10 based on 9 ratings

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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 27th, 2011 at 10:01 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. September 11th, 2011 | Rob Staples says:

    Good review – as a westerner who has visited India I enjoyed this book. I live in Sydney and also liked the parts set in that city. A great read on a plane – my wife has also read it and passed the book on to her friends.

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