It was a curious sensation, reading this novel. Had it been specifically written, I wondered, for me to read? It was one of those novels, I felt, that must have been written with me specifically in mind. Who else could it have been written for, otherwise?
The movement of the book criss-crosses the city like an inexhaustible flaneur, touching upon nearly every famous landmark in the city (from its cricket stadia to its open sewers) – I too zigzagged across Bombay’s lanes and psychic routes, and knew each site.
The writer observes closely the ordinary habits of this outlandish place – and so did I!
Written as it was between 2007-2009, Aravind and I must have passed each other numerous times – along Falkland Road, on Juhu Beach, drinking juice in Café Ideal.
What is the plot? Okay. One man in this Society refuses to accept a developer’s massive sweetener to the block’s inhabitants to leave their flats; without his agreement, the deal must collapse; his neighbours in the Society are furious with him. Behind that, there is a swirl of thoughts revealing how the city and its people are changing. And that’s it.
Yet, it’s almost like one is at a mirror theatre – where some magnificent and detail-stuffed scenery becomes so much more interesting than the action of the play.
I’ll say this: Adiga is going to be a major voice. But he isn’t yet. There’s something pre-prepared about his characters, as though he picked them off the shelf. The cynical and Machiavellian developer; the internalised widower; the grasping, feckless neighbour; the hollow ‘left-hand’ man – they all emerge out of Bollywood’s shadow, too two-dimensional. (Amitabh Bachan as Masterji, anyone?)
Does Adiga intend this last line as a message? I wonder. If so, it is a surprising and quite sudden twist, and almost an exoneration of the moral outrages that have gone before. It could fit the story… I suppose.
But is it indeed exculpation? Or is it Adiga’s own dispassionate view of Bombay – and thus of the people that make up the city? It’s – like I say – curious.