Bombaywallah and Mumbaikar Discuss (7): The Best Book on Bombay Ever Written

Two friends – Bombaywallah and Mumbaikar – discuss Vikram Chandra’s new novel, ‘Sacred Games‘. I overhear them as I walk out of the Crossword bookstore at Kemps Corner after hearing Vikram Chandra read excerpts from the book.

Mumbaikar: I can’t believe you missed the book reading! Vikram Chandra just left two minutes back.

Bombaywallah: Endless client meeting and terrible traffic! Maybe they should build that flyover at Peddar Road! How was it?

Mumbaikar: It was OK. He read two excerpts from the book, one about a sardar inspector called Sartaj Singh and the other about a gangster called Ganesh Gaitonde. The sardar sounded quite like a loser, yaar!

Bombaywallah: Yes, they are the two protagonists. And Sartaj Singh does have a wounded cynicism, not only in ‘Sacred Games‘ but also in ‘Love and Longing in Bombay‘, where he first appeared. My girlfriend is quite crazy about his character.

Mumbaikar: That’s what Vikram Chandra said:

The women like him a lot; I don’t know why.

Bombaywallah: What else did he say?

Mumbaikar: He read from the book and people asked him questions. He talked about why it took him so many years to write the book,

I write very slowly, take a lot of time in putting words on paper.

He talked about

the magic of Mumbai that transcends its stench and squalor.

He talked about the structure of the novel, its alternating chapters on Sartaj and Gaitonde, and how it all comes together at the end. You know that I don’t read fat nine hundred page novels, unlike you, but it was fascinating, ekdam jhakaas!

Bombaywallah: Well, I’m five hundred pages into it and it is fascinating. He manages to lay out a map of Bombay, in all its maddening magic, makes everyday life dramatic in its detail. And both Sartaj and Gaitonde, inspite of their inspector/ gangster bravado, are flawed and humane beyond belief. I think I haven’t read a better book in a while.

Mumbaikar: That’s what Ashok Banker said, in a review in Hindustan Times. He called it

a great novel, perhaps the greatest book on Bombay ever written. Certainly a contender for the Great Indian Novel.

So, I asked him about the review, asked him if the book was really about Mumbai, asked him which was the second best book about the city.

Bombaywallah: I don’t have much respect for someone who is trying to re-write Ramayana, and not very well, but still. He must have blushed at that, did he?

Mumbaikar: He did. He speaks in an American accent, almost like yours, and he blushed like you are blushing now. He said that

the only true reward for a writer is to be read by a ‘sah-hridaya’, someone of the same heart,

that Banker was being over-generous, that it was not possible to rank books like that, that the book was about Mumbai but also about other places and ideas.

Bombaywallah: Yes, it is an ambitious book, both in its size and its sweep. What else did you ask?

Mumbaikar: I had heard about his filmy family, and you have told me that the book reads like a Hindi film, so I wanted to ask him if he would write a screenplay based on the book, make it into a movie. But there were too many people with too many questions and not enough time.

Bombaywallah: Hah! A Bollywood blockbuster directed by Ram Gopal Verma with Ajay Devgan playing Ganesh Ganitonde and Abhishek Bachchan playing Sartaj Singh! That would make you happy, wouldn’t it!

I wanted to tell them that Vikram Chandra has a website and is known to answer e-mails, but didn’t; I like eavesdropping on them from a distance, on Bombaywallah and Mumbaikar.

Read the other entries in the series here: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6).

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