No, really. Heaven is a thirty-year-old slum tucked away in Bangalore.
In Heaven, there is a group of girls. Deepu, an indefatigable blind dancer; Joy, the youngest, a transgender Christian convert; Padma, a recently arrived migrant who carries the weight of her family on her shoulders; Banu, the guerilla artist; Rukshana, a queer Muslim.
The story is a little meandering, it’s a little lyrical. The girls are allowed to drive the plot, so we see their internal struggles as much as their external. We see them choose and love and cry, so those scenes aren’t exactly action-packed.
There are objective threats: namely, the destruction of Heaven in order to build a new shopping mall. There are lots of bulldozers. But the other, scarier obstacles are shown in vignettes, and you see heartbreaking glimpses of huge, systemic, global, devastating issues: Girls can’t afford education. Women are sterilized without consent. Marriages are arranged. Men leave, and women are left to eke out a living, outcast. Being female is dangerous. We have to stick together to survive.
The characters are lovable but an odd mix, so it almost feels…kitschy? Like a mix and match bag of characteristics that were thrown together: Ok, this one is a Christian…convert…transgender! This one is a Muslim…and queer! But it works, because it’s written with a light hand and a clear love for the characters and what they represent, by which I mean, girls women relying on each other, and on each other’s mothers and grandmothers, to carve a place for themselves in this big, awful world.
Despite the themes of poverty and struggle, this is not a treatise. It’s almost whimsical, actually. It’s light enough for a young teenager to read, while not pulling punches about the realities of life in a slum.
I have a few notes. I grew tired of the choppy sentence style, and while I think the characters are drawn well, it’s sometimes hard to keep them straight, especially in the beginning.