Review: Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes

By Betsy Woodman. Grade A

“In the first of a charming series, we meet Jana Bibi, who has inherited her grandfather’s house in a quaint hill station in India.

Casting aside the conventions of her upper-crust upbringing, Janet (Jana) Laird moves with her chatty parrot, Mr.Ganguly, and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, a town where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a bully, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana meets the town’s colourful local characters who gather at the Why Not? Tea shop – the contemplative darzi who struggles with his business and family; a kindly shopkeeper whose shop is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance’ a newspaper editor who burns the midnight oil at his printing press; a head of police who rules with an iron hand; and a young man with a golden voice, who wants to be a singer in the movies.

Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes

When word gets out that a new government dam will flood the little hill station, forcing everyone to move and start over, Jana is enlisted to save the community. Will Hamara Nagar survive? With some luck and Mr.Ganguly the fortune-telling parrot, the townspeople may have fate on their side.”

 Janet Laird, also fondly called Jana Bibi, a woman of Scottish origin, has spent most part of her life in India, and associates herself with the Indian culture. After inheriting her grandfather’s house, the Jolly Grant House, in a quaint little hill station, Hamara Nagar, Uttarakhand, she refuses her son, Jack’s invitation to move back to Scotland and grow old in their ancestral castle. Along with her parrot, Mr.Ganguly, and her trustworthy housekeeper of many years, Mary, Jana Bibi moves to Hamara Nagar to start life afresh.

Settling into her new life, she encounters an eclectic mix of characters – Feroze, the head darzi, and owner of Royal Tailors; Mr. Ramachandran, the owner of Treasure Emporium; Mr. Rambir, the chief editor of the local newspaper ‘Our Town, Our Times’ ; Mr. Abinath of Abinath’s Apothecary; The Gurkha Piper, Lal Bahadur Pun; and the young Tilku, who serves as an errand boy. Oh, and the favourite ‘Why Not? Tea shop,’ which is a popular gathering joint for all.

“Walk down to Central Bazaar. We can offer you a new garment for a special occasion, a remedy for a nagging ailment, a notebook in which to record your otherwise fleeting thoughts. A snack, a treasure, a fortune told – for all their smallness, each is no less in the making of an afternoon, and an afternoon in the making of a life,” said Jana.

When news leaks out that the government is planning to build a dam in Hamara Nagar, and the residents would be forced to move and start over, Rambir and Ramachandran enlist Jana to help save their small community. To complicate matters further, an unlikable police officer by the name of Bandhu Sharma keeps showing up, forcing people to pay fines and fees. However, with the ‘Annual Futurology Convention’ coming up, they seize the opportunity and conceive a plan to make people realize what Hamara Nagar has to offer, making it too valuable to destroy, and to put the town on a map. Jana is persuaded to be a local Fortune Teller, by using tarot cards and cards with pictures of Deities, thus giving birth to the local fortune telling salon, ‘Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes.’  Helped out by her chatty parrot, the salon is an immediate hit among tourists, and the girls from the near-by boarding schools. Brimming with positivity, and just a sheer bit of luck, the townsfolk manage to save their home, Hamara Nagar, and put it on the map.

Set in 1960, a few years after independence, it has glimpses of the Hindu-Muslim differences, and in certain places highlights the after effects of this separation. It took me a while to get used to the mind-set and life-style of people living in the 1960’s, as the concepts of Aerogrammes, hand written messages, and Gramophones are a bit foreign to me.

The story is slow paced, and initially did seem a bit boring. However, after the first few chapters, it gathered and became a tremendously enjoyable read. Aside from focusing just on prevention of construction of the dam, it gives us an insight into the daily life and chores of the people of Hamara Nagar; capturing the finer nuances of the Indian household, and our culture. The characters are colourful, eccentric and quirky. The setting of the hill station has been beautifully described; making me want to visit Hamara Nagar! Really looking forward to reading the next in the series.

This post was written by

Radhika – who has written 3 posts on Vault of Books ||.
Hey there! Reading is one of my many loves, among baking, watching movies, and travelling. I started enjoying reading novels when I picked up a Secret Seven, and thrillers have been my favourite genre ever since. I however fell in love with books once i started reading Harry Potter, the magic enthralled me, and it remains to be my all-time favorite series.

 • Facebook


Stay up to date with our latest reviews, contests and other books-related things. We promise not to spam - two emails a month maximum.


Advert: The Untrodden Ways

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲