I love books on Bombay so this one was right up my street. It covers a facet of the Bombay netherworld that normally finds a mention in Bombay books – the drug trade. Only this book deals with the subject romantically from the point of view of the user and the street purveyor rather than the gangster overlord.
Many reviews love/hate the extended first sentence that apparently goes on for several pages. I didn’t notice. It seemed perfectly natural to me. Then again, I’m a fan of Virginia Woolf.
Each character is unique and interesting if perilously flawed, not least because they are opium users. Almost all are erudite and philosophical, which might be the result of the drug or the cause of drug use.
The book meanders into the stories of the characters – Dimple, the hijra, Rashid, the chandu khana owner, Rumi, the middle-class man with a violent streak, Salim, the goonda, and the narrator Dom. Of all of them, I found Dimple most compelling, I’ve never felt a hijra character so natural, humanized and non-caricatured.
To hook me further, there’s a side story on a Chinese character that delves in the Cultural Revolution period. This character teaches Dimple to swear in Cantonese, with the Chinese words spelled out in English, which was very useful for me because just the morning I read that part, I was in a taxi and was thrilled to understand the swear words the driver used when a minibus stopped right in front of us.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s an episode with a painter called Souza, who is very reminiscent of the artist Francis Newton Souza who I was obsessed with last year. It was interesting to see this artist referenced in literature.
That’s it, I guess. Read the book.