I’ve been staring at a blank page for hours trying to figure out how to put words on the page to describe Anosh Irani’s latest novel, The Parcel. I am beginning to realize that, although it’s a novel, it isn’t about the words that appear on the page, but the feeling that those words create in the reader.
The Parcel is a novel of emotions. From the reactions of the characters to the hardships that they face daily in Bombay’s red light district, to the visceral emotional response that I had in the final pages. It isn’t rooted in plot, although that does help keep the story from turning into an expressionist experiment; it is rooted in emotional action, reaction, and inaction.
Never once, as I was being absorbed into the worlds of Madhu and the parcel, did I feel an urge to stop reading. I was pulled along by the nature of the characters who were always moving forward. I felt compelled to follow their example and move along with them.
Anosh Irani’s style is one of restrained profusion. He knows when to use five dollar words and when to drop them entirely, to be replaced by the language of the streets of the red light district. This is one of the standout features of this novel: it doesn’t stay tied to one singular, defining characteristic.
The Parcel weaves themes of family drama with romance, mystery, yearning, change, and erasure in a way that pays careful attention to each. The end is positive, but it is not happy. There is no final, joy-filled moment for any of the characters. It is an ending that almost prompted me to call my parents at an ungodly hour in the morning to tell them thank you and that I loved them. Reason stepped in before I pushed call, but the response was one that I doubt I will forget.
The weaving in and out of transgender and cisgender sex workers is done in a way that doesn’t vilify or deify either group, and instead works to portray the transgender hijra as victims to a lack of understanding, and the cisgender women victims of being born as the easily commodifiable gender.
Even though at its core it’s an emotional novel, it is also a novel about female power and how it can be wielded even when society rejects this as something that should be celebrated and accepted.
The Parcel functions in a third space, much like Madhu and the rest of the hijra of the red light district are members of the third gender; it is very real and present in this world, but also very transcendental and existing in many places all at once.