11 February 2010

Book review: 'The death of Vishnu' by Manil Suri

Back of the book says:
'At the opening of this masterful debut novel, Vishnu, the resident odd-job man, lies dying on the staircase he inhabits, while his neighbours the Pathaks and the Asranis squabble over who will pay for an ambulance. as the action spirals up through the floors of their building, the drama of the residents' lives unfold. Mr. Jalal's obsessive search for higher meaning; Vinod Taneja's longing for a wife he has lost, the comic elopement of Kavita Asrani, who fancies herself the heroine of a Bollywood movie.

Suffused with Hindu mythology and the exuberance of Bollywood, this story of one apartment building becomes a metaphor for social and religious divisions of the contemporary India, and Vishnu's ascent of the staircase parallels the soul's progress through the various stages of existence. As Vishnu closes in on the riddle of his own mortality, he begins to wonder whether he might not be the god Vishnu, guardian not only of the fate of the building and its occupants but also of the entire universe'.

Pretty interesting premise, wont you agree? I thought so too- which I why I picked it up the library to read it. The book starts off great; the building setting just like any other you would typically see in Mumbai- too little space, too many people, too many dreams, a fair dose of selfishness - nothing extraordinary. But Suri does really well in painting the picture. Vishnu's anguish as he lies dying and his recollections of his sweeter memories (of Padmini, a pretty prostitute who was the love of Vishnu's life or those of his mother telling him the story of Vishnu-the-God) are nicely portrayed. The constant friction between the Asranis and Pathaks over money, space and other petty issues is seriously funny. The lives of Jalals and Taneja as the upper floor occupants unravels nicely as well. So all in all, Suri does really well setting up his characters.

And while I found the book really good in a quite few places, I must admit I was a little lost in others. Especially the ones where Suri treads on the fine line between philosophy, religion and real life. And then there is a constant undertone of sexuality and lust throughout the book. I understand the sensuality is a big part of life but there were times when I found it a bit too much, sometimes even unnecessary. The story's okay, Suri's writing style is excellent but most importantly, his attempt of braiding mythology and religion with real life deserves a read. So in spite of those little bumps, I will still give the book a thumbs-up.

After I finished reading the book, I was wondering what will happen to 'me' after I die! Trust me, I couldn't go on thinking for more than 5 mins!! I mean, who knows where I will end up? and what about N, my family, my loved ones? If I don't meet them in my after-life, I will be lost, wont I?? So I told N, whatever happens to me, I am never-ever-ever going to leave him ('mera saaya saath hoga' type)..freaked him out completely..hehe!

Besides, N and I have this constant argument- I keep telling him that in our next births, I will be husband, he will be the wife and as revenge for this life, I will boss him like crazy! Sweet dreams, he tells me! His counter-argument? Maybe I was the husband is our last birth and its his revenge this time (yikes, don't like that..makes me look bad!) and more importantly, how do I know this one isn't the last of the mythological seven births of us together?? (double yikes, no more chances of revenge for me??)!

See what a book can do to you?



indosungod said...

I am not sure I will pick up the book but the last paragraph of yours sure is gripping read.

Aparna said...


nilesh said...

You dreamer...enough dreaming...come back to the real world ;-)


notyet100 said...

luv ur template,..;-)

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it