In Shivani Sibal’s novel Equations, a portrait of 1980s Delhi and its ambitious people-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost

Equations is a story of aspiration and social change, of individual ambition and family ties, told through the lives of two families, the Sikand, a wealthy business clan, and the Kumar, who are their family. domestic help.

In 1980s New Delhi, Aahan Sikand and Rajesh Kumar are childhood playmates who were raised by the same woman, living in the same house. But they have radically different realities – Aahan is the only son and heir to the wealthy Sikand clan, while Rajesh is the son of the family driver, who lives in a small staff quarters on the grounds of their sprawling bungalow.

As Aahan and Rajesh grow older, the natural friendship they shared as children comes to an uncomfortable end, as both of them realize their place in the world. While Aahan is supposed to keep what he inherited for the next generation intact, Rajesh, in the eyes of the world, can at best hope for a better life than his father’s, without domestic bondage. But he has much larger plans for himself.

Equations is a story of aspiration and social change, individual ambition and family ties. With this book, beginning author Shivani Sibal examines the secret worlds of New Delhi’s political and business families. The following is an excerpt read by Sibal (with a text version of it) from his book, which has been republished here with permission from publisher HarperCollins India.


There was a birthday party – Aahan’s cousin was three years old. The child’s parents owned a number of gas stations, were connected, and had the most lavish parties for their children, with elephant rides, free-flowing soft drinks, and imported return gifts. . “I can’t handle it on my own,” Aahan’s mother told her husband, who was getting ready for work, changing his shirts several times, sucking his guts out while looking at himself in the mirror. “I can’t take Aahan to the party without Babita to take care of him, he’s just too active and I want to chat with people. Besides, the girls will be there too. But does that mean I should let her bring her son?

She did not get an answer; he was still concerned about his appearance. “I’ll take Babita and her boy too,” she said to no one in particular.

On the day of the event, Babita prepared Aahan while Madame got dressed, then ran to the neighborhood to make Rajesh presentable. ‘Chalo, chalo, jaldi karo, joote pehno! ‘ she insisted. His wet hair was parted to the left side and he was wearing Aahan’s birthday party outfit from the previous year: brown and white shorts, a tee and a suspenders number, with talcum powder liberally dusted over it. his neck. They met Madame and Aahan at the door. ‘Chalo, aage baitho, Rajesh ko apne saath rakho‘Memsahib said. They drove through Delhi, with Laxman driving the Contessa Classic, Babita in front with Rajesh on her lap. Fortunately, her saree was synthetic and didn’t wrinkle. Aahan, his mother and sisters were in the back seat.

Upon arrival, Laxman opened the door for Madame and her children, and Babita and Rajesh followed a few steps behind, carrying Aahan’s water bottle from their home. The gift was given to the birthday child, and Aahan’s mother moved away to socialize with her acquaintances, leaving Babita in charge of the boys. There were several games organized, and they failed to pin the tail on the donkey. Aahan won a small fake plastic video game in the hoopla, which he gave to Rajesh because it was pink.

It was time for the musical chairs, and a dozen children crowded around the mood. It was September, oppressive and humid. They ran around the low rattan stools to the rhythm of the music that the child’s Mami periodically celebrated. One by one, all the children were wiped out except Rajesh, Aahan and Hammad, a Yemeni boy who lived next door; his parents worked at the embassy.

The competition was intense. The music lasted forever and Aahan walked away. It was ‘Born in the United States’, one of his favorite songs. The music stopped, Hammad took a seat and Aahan was in front of the other. Before he knew it, Rajesh had rushed forward, pushing him very lightly, not enough for it to be noticed by the judges and for him to disqualify him and take his seat.

Aahan was out of the game, and Rajesh was in. Babita wiped away Aahan’s hot, angry tears as Rajesh continued in the competition, focused, unconscious. Hammad won and Rajesh approached his dejected mother to be greeted with a stinging slap. Rajesh absorbed his submission to Aahan at the cellular level, his mother had communicated to him the benefits of this behavior as a small animal could teach its young to hunt or to feed. He had known from an early age that his mother would drop him off and pick up Aahan if he wanted; that he would always choose which toy to play second with.

As long as the rules were in place, calm and camaraderie remained between the boys. Rajesh has even learned to fight just enough in their games to make him appear competitive and lose at the right time. These lessons have not been easy. When Aahan won, he slapped Rajesh on the back and offered him imported chocolates that his mother kept locked in a refrigerator in his dressing room. When Rajesh won it sometimes happened out of sheer probability, it was followed by a long sulk, silence, and often with him being sent to the neighborhood, with his mother remaining with his load. He began to prioritize success over victory, giving up fame to get what he really wanted.


Shivani Sibal’s equations published by HarperCollins India | July 2021 | Paperback | 212 pages | Rs 399