The Tailor's Needle by Lakshmi Raj Sharma is about C a m b r i d g e educated Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi who is a towering public figure in early twentieth century India.
A firm believer in the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, he also has faith in the virtues of the British Raj.
As a result, he has to mediate between the Maharaja of a princely state and the Viceroy and strike a fine balance between tradition and modernity.
This tussle between old and new values is reflected in his three children -- the daredevil Maneka, the timid Sita, and their brother, Yogendra, who turns their father’s world upside down by falling in love with a lower-caste girl.
A comedy of manners laced with intrigue and excitement, The Tailor’s Needle explores some of the great moral dilemmas of pre-independent India with wit and sensitivity.
Set in India in the 1930s, this novel follows the fortunes of Sir Saraswati and his three children, Yogendra, Maneka and Sita, who have all been brought up in Western style of education by British governesses.
The novel examines preindependence India, the feeling of different people towards the British, and the movement towards autonomy.
It slyly pokes fun at many aspects of British and Indian culture with a gently sarcastic style, as Sir Saraswati struggles to reconcile his admiration for the British with the ideals of Gandhi and the development of independent India.
The novel also looks at the role and status of women, contrasting the feisty and strongwilled Maneka with her more traditional mother and sister.
The concept of caste and its role in the new India that is emerging is also considered.
The author has tried to revive a genre which is almost fading away in the contemporary scenario.
So, the novel at least partly enters the domain of the Comedy of Manners.
At many places, the dialogue delivery and script are humorous and the wit, repartee and situations are very similar to what one would find in a play written by Congreve or Wycherley.
The title refers to the belief of Sir Saraswati that his children should be like the needle of a tailor, passing through all kinds of cloth without discriminating, and this is a central metaphor throughout the book.
The style is interesting and quite different. The dialogue is rather stilted, yet somehow this seems to suit the characters and the time well. It is something that the reader can adjust to quickly and it does not affect the enjoyment. This is an unusual novel that carries the flavour of its time and setting. Anyone who enjoys books about India would find this worth a read.