19 April 2012

The lost flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Forgive me, dear lord
What a lovely, evocative title! Imagine a Mumbai commuter train stuffed to the brim with flamingoes in startling shades of pink, red, and orange – their bright feathers flapping in the breeze as they swell from overcrowded doors, and their strong, hooked bills pressed against the side, as the Local banks and hoots. I’m afraid I found much of this book as unlikely, as cutely stylised, as this image. After a tedious build-up of characters and situations, aptly couched in laboured language, a woman is shot dead in a bar – just as Jessica Lal was. If you want a more lifelike version, go see the movie No One Killed Jessica.

What upset me most about this book was the rave blurb by Amy Tan on the cover – if not for that, which marks it out as a fabulous global work of art, I wouldn’t have dreamt of demeaning it in public. In any case, to be fair, maybe it was just too artistic for my plebeian tastes.
What I will always remember about this book is the leering looks the waiter gave me as I read. It was a roadside joint near the Dadar flyover, and the yumptious-scrumptious pau bhaji dripped with butter and soothed some of my aesthetic senses while this book jarred some others as I waited for my ride home. It must be ten (or twenty or maybe even thirty) years since anyone gave me those serious oh-my-god-you-hottie looks. Only later, when I took a closer look at the cover of the book I was reading, could I imagine what the man might have been thinking watching me sitting there, slurping at the food and reading engrossed, but with expressions of distaste flitting across my face every now and again.