The author has tried to revive a genre which is almost fading away in the contemporary scenario. So, the novel at least partly enters the domain of the Comedy of Manners. At many places, the dialogue delivery and script are humorous and the wit, repartee and situations are very similar to what one would find in a play written by Congreve or Wycherley.
The novel tells the story of Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi, a Cambridge-educated man who is a towering public figure in early twentieth century India. Being educated in England, he is a liberal person who has faith in the virtues of British Raj but still he is a firm believer in the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi.
He has three children, the eldest daughter Maneka is a daredevil and very independent in her thought and deed. The youngest one is Sita, who is very timid in comparison to her sister. Their brother, Sir Saraswati’s only son is Yogendra, a firm supporter of his father’s ideals and decisions. The story revolves around Sir Saraswati and his three children.
The three children of Sir Saraswati had three different traits; the eldest Maneka has been portrayed by the novelist as dominating and at times even insensitive person, though ultimately she shows great sensitivity and concern for others. Her character evolves during the course of the novel. At times selfish, she believes that nothing matters as much as the realization of her ambitions; wisdom, in her opinion, lies in pleasure seeking.
The youngest of the three siblings, Sita, a contrast to her sister, is a very loving, emotional and timid person. She is easily affected by the pains of others. And Yogendra is a very responsible person towards his family and other duties. He always takes every word uttered by his father as a commandment. His favourite proverb is, ‘be the tailor’s needle, which passes through every cloth without making distinction.’ (30) He always gave respect for all individuals irrespective of caste, creed, colour and class. Though being different from his sisters, he was a little of each of them. He had the nobility of his father and possessed the adaptability to adjust in any situation. Later on, we see him in a much mature person. His evolution is the result of his father’s liberal upbringing.
A crisis in the novel begins when Yogendra falls in love with and wants to marry Gauri, who belongs to lower caste. When he tells his father about his love for Gauri, the latter advises him to reconsider though he knows that such thing is the natural outcome of his own liberal education. He himself has taught his children to think independently. Yogendra takes a stand though he is never entirely against his father. But he does manage to put before Sir Saraswati his point of view:
Papa, after all the education you have given us, trying to make us into the tailor’s needle, and broadminded, and what not, do you still consider it necessary for us to be so traditional? Is it so important to marry within the caste? Is a Brahmin girl superior to a non-Brahmin? (269)
Yogendra’s growing maturity in being able to put forth his point of view makes his father happy, with a sense of pride in his son. But he still is worried about the hurdles that his son will face due to the prevalent caste system. So the novel portrays the situation as it existed in those times. A young son could not rise in rebellion against patriarchal authority though in this case Yogendra can at least make his opinion known.
In the second part of the story, the novel becomes a thriller, revolving around a murder mystery which is being solved at the end of the novel. Actually the incident is that Maneka’s husband, Mohan, gets involved in a scuffle while he has a clash with his wife. Maneka, being rescued by Dilip, in a rather unusual kind of situation begins to believe that she herself is responsible for the murder of her husband. But later on the efforts of her father and brother lead to the concusion that everything was planned by Dilip and he himself was the murderer. The second half of the novel, thus becomes a thriller and the reader finds it difficult to put the novel down till the end.
The title of the novel has a metaphorical content, reflecting upon the characters of Sir Saraswati and his son, Yogendra. Sir Saraswati believed that one should be like the tailor’s needle that passes through every kind of cloth without discrimination. The author has described the character of Yogendra in the following lines:
Yogendra was the happy man between the two [Menaka and Sita]; Sir Saraswati loved him for being that, yes that was the tailor’s needle position. (150)
The Tailor’s Needle falls into the category of a semi-historical novels because it shows the Indian freedom struggle and the British idea of expansion in its backdrop or we can say that it tells a story that is set in the British Raj in India. It discusses the famous British policy of expansion, ‘doctrine of lapse.’ The novelist might have been highly inspired by Gabriel Gracia Marquez as the novel is also based on magic realism.
Professor Sumita Parmar, Director of Centre for Women Studies, has highly praised the novel by saying that, “it is beautifully crafted and elegantly written.” Many eminent scholars and intellectuals have recommended the book for reading.