Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Before commencing the story itself, Badami provides this definition of the
tamarind tree: "Folklore has it that the tamarind tree is the home of
spirits that do not let anything under the tree survive. Accordingly,
travelers are advised not to sleep in its shade. The tamarind tree is never
used for auspicious ceremonies, as its fruit is sour. It is believed that
the ceremony will turn sour and thus become fruitless and lose all
meaning. "How did this definition color your reading of the
story? Is Saroja the only "Tamarind Woman" in the story? What
about Kamini? Amma?
- In their first exchange of the novel, Kamini complains to her mother that
"you are inventing memories." Were there points of
disconnect between Kamini's remembrance of the past and Saroja's? If so,
whose tale do you believe? Why?
- What did you think about the structure of the novel? Did you find it
enhanced the story to have two separate voices, each located in the present
and narrating a version of the past? Why do you think Kamini's voice begins
the story, even though her remembrances occur after Saroja's? Why might
Badami write the novel this way?
- Badami engages with India's notorious caste system throughout the novel,
though specifically in the characters of Dadda and Paul de Costa. Do you
think these characters acted caste-appropriately? Discuss the interplay
between caste and Saroja's rather unfeminine personality. What is Badami
trying to say about various forms of social strictures?
- What did you think of Chinna, the woman who is defeminized and ostracized
because her mate died too soon? How does her character compare to that of
- Historically, Badami writes during the years just following India's
independence from British rule. What sort of residual influence does
the colonial rule of Britain still have upon the story's characters, if any?
Does this context help to explain the dynamic between Saroja, Dadda, Kamini,
- Did you find the family life presented in the book typical? In what ways
did you relate to this family? What did you not relate to? How much do you
think culture informs the differences between family relationships?
- Did Saroja have a full-blown affair with Paul de Costa? Or was it more
like an unrequited crush? Is this the reason he hangs himself in the game
room at the club? If not, then why else do you think he would commit such an
outlandish final act? How important is his suicide to the novel as a
- Kamini and Roopa live polarized adult lives: Kamini as the reclusive,
neurotic academic, Roopa as the practical mother. Their commonality lies in
their distance from both India and Saroja. Given Kamini's remembrances, does
it make sense to you that she and Roopa would, in effect, run away from
home? Why do you think they have such different adult desires and
- Ever since she was a child, Kamini has been obsessed with discerning the
difference between fact and fiction, though she has always been unable to do
so. Through her conversations with her mother, we see that this
pattern still holds. What affect has this unsatisfiable obsession had
upon Kamini? Does it explain her choice to study engineering and move to
Calgary in pursuit of a Ph.D.?
- Saroja and Dadda have a rather loveless marriage. Linda Ayah's husband
cheated on her, Chinna is marked for life as a childless widow. Badami
presents many different types of marriage throughout the novel; what do you
think she's trying to say about the institution as a whole?
- As a railway engineer, Dadda travels constantly, sometimes taking his
family along with him. Initially Saroja hates to travel, finding it
profoundly disorienting. Yet, at the end of her life, traveling
becomes a type of liberation for her. What do you think makes the difference
- Of the male characters in the novel, most seem either indifferent to women
or dominant over them. What do you think of the men? Do you feel sympathetic
to any of them? Who is the novel's most influential male?
- While sitting on the hot train, telling her stories, one of Saroja's
fellow travelers comments, "Going away is the easiest thing in the
world. It is like dying. So simple it is to die. Living is hard, to make
this small amount of time loaned to you by the gods worthwhile is
hard. The real test is life itself, whether you are strong enough to
stay and fight." What do you think of this statement? Furthermore,
reflecting on the context of our two narrators Kamini in a cold room, all
alone, and Saroja in a hot train, surrounded by womenwho do you think is
"traveling" or "going away" and who is
Copyright Ballantine Books
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Bloomsbury USA.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.