‘I don’t know, memsahib,’ she said in the end. ‘But I don’t like it, that man coming here. I hope he does not come again.’
‘He will? And the next time he comes, don’t behave like a rabbit. Face him like a man.’
Miss Coelho took intimidation in her stride, whether by the underworld don’s henchmen, or rapacious builders like her new landlord. They were minor inconveniences. Her purpose in life was to serve the Lord by teaching good English to her young students and, if possible, adults as well. God knew they needed it.
The other fourteen women that anchor the stories in this collection are quite different, but remarkable in their own way. Like Mrs Hiralal Motilal Jain, in ‘Only an Indian Wife’, who’s shrewder than any crooked taxation lawyers could be. In ‘Janaki’, the eponymous housemaid is but a demure young woman—or is she? The Bombay-born Shabana Meherali, in ‘By a Thread’, might be confined to her marital home in Rawalpindi, but there’s really nothing that can stop her from finding someone to converse with in her mother tongue. Asha, in ‘Saga-vhala’, is as glued to south Bombay as to the TV, and knows more about Bollywood than even judges at a quiz contest. Freny, in ‘Her F word’, is happily married to a successful doctor like herself but harbours a secret longing in her heart. And there’s Indira, Under Secretary, in ‘Women Can’t Play It’—not one for playing chess; but the game she is adept at is far more complex and cunning.
‘Women are like men, only different, mostly better,’ writes Kiran Doshi in the Author’s Note—and then proceeds to show us how in fifteen memorable stories written with quiet, compelling humour and an intuitive understanding of life’s little triumphs and troubles and abiding oddness. The English Teacher is a book of great charm, and thoroughly entertaining.