Sunday, May 31, 2015
Sacred Games By Vikram Chandra
Cop chases robber through Mumbai; the backdrop the history of the modern state of India.
Sartaj Singh, the only Sikh on the Mumbai police force, gets the telephone call of a lifetime. Want Ganesh Gaitonde, a voice asks. Gaitonde is the top Hindu gangster in Mumbai, his nefarious reach only threatened by Suleiman Isa, the top Muslim gangster in Mumbai. Sartaj journeys to a neighborhood where Gaitonde is holed up in a class A bomb shelter. But why? By the time Sartaj gets the bulldozer handy, Gaitonde has shot himself. Also discovered in the shelter is the body of a woman, a procurer of beautiful young actresses. But why? Alternately narrated primarily by Sartaj’s third person POV and the posthumous Gaitonde’s first person story of how he started off poor and came to be a kingpin, this book takes the reader on a journey through India and India’s tragic (and very lively) modern history.
This book was nearly a thousand pages long. A thousand pages! I was definitely planning to bail if it got too onerous. But I loved the book and thought the time commitment was worth it – the story works on so many levels. As a mystery, as a history, as a love story. As a Hindi swearing guide. The book is fast moving. The scenes are discursive, because the many many characters, especially Gaitonde, like to talk. So as a result the actual prose is not that poetic. The structure is the story of the Sikh policeman trying to piece together the story of the Hindu Mafioso, how he ended up in the bunker with the dead Christian prostitute.
The reader gets to the last page and there’s an extensive glossary of Hindu terms. Luckily I didn’t know about the glossary because it worked better to have the reader try to piece out the meaning. And the bloody birth of the Partition underlays the modern motivations – people didn’t just kill. They raped and killed. The hatred is just under the surface.
The scenes at the end of the book did not contribute to a feeling of the book wrapping up, but were, however, very moving.