Love and Longing in Bombay
Finished reading a book after a *long* time. Several starts failed or stopped midway. But this one, by Vikram Chandra, made sure that I read it to the end. It’s a collection of short stories and, as the name suggests they’ve all got a lot to do with Bombay. The stories are very interestingly titled: Dharma, Shakti, Kama, Artha and Shanti. The reason behind each title comes out in a subtle and beautiful manner as one reads along. Vikram Chandra tells his stories in a smooth and clear language, with local (mostly Hindi) jargon sprinkled adequately to get a feel of the ‘real’ Mumbai.
The stories are narrated by a character called Subramaniam, a retired government employee, in a bar known as the Fisherman’s Crest to the protagonist of the book known only as “I” to the reader till the end of the last story.
Vikram Chandra’s has the ability to give a certain utterly believable touch to his stories. So, even if you did not believe in ghosts, it won’t stop you from getting the chills and sympathising with the protagonist of the first story (Dharma) who is haunted by his brother’s ghost in his old family mansion. Chandra describes best the mental condition of his protagonists in few short sentences. Like this one from the third story, Kama: Sartaj Singh lay flat on his back on the floor of his apartment in a white banian and red pyjamas, arms wide to the sides, and contemplated death. He had these words in his head “to contemplate,” and “death.” Between them there was a a kind of light, a huge clear fearful sky in which he he was suspended. When the shrill of the doorbell called, it took him a full minute to descend from this thin and deadly atmosphere, to lift his weightless body off the floor.”
It’s this kind of writing that makes the book the kind of page turner that it is – slow and steady. Not to mention that the stories themselves are very interesting.
If there had to be a drawback, it would be the fact that if you were to really understand the importance of the city of Mumbai in the stories, you’d have to have a decent knowledge about the city. It’s only in the fourth story, Artha, that one is able to get a feel of the real Mumbai. Perhaps because it revolves around the lives of a few struggling, middle class Mumbaikars, the likes of whom we have seen so many times in Hindi cinema.
That apart, the book totally rocks. And I am already looking forward tor eading the other two books by Chandra that I’ve bought long back, Red Earth and Pouring Rain and Sacred Games.
Image courtesy: Faber