Last Man in Tower

…by Aravind Adiga.

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Vishram Society, Vakola. The site sought after by builder Dharmen Shah to demolish and rebuild a new development in its place. The residents of both Tower A and B are given an offer for their flats. Given that Vishram society is falling to pieces, most of the residents are more than happy to sign the contract, get the money and find a new and more stable place. Except for one man.Yogesh Murthy of Tower A. A retired teacher also known as Masterji to his neighbours. What initially begins as a way of sticking up for friends eventually results in him taking a stance for exercising ones freedom and rights to keeping ones roots. However, Masterji’s stance soon sees him making enemies and those people he thought of as neighbours and friends can no longer be trusted. There is Mrs Puri who longs for a new life after 18 years of penance looking after her disabled son Ramu. There is the building secretary, Mr Kothari who longs to live in Sewri watching flamingos and reliving what his father lost. There is the scheming broker Ajwani who will do almost anything to make more money. And the cyber-cafe owner Ibrahim Kudwa who thinks more money would mean a better life for his family and who is always looking to please everyone. Then there is Mrs Rego, a single mother and social worker who is envious of her sister’s life. And the Pintos who were very good friends with Masterji but have troubles of their own. Finally, can Masterji trust his own son Gaurav who seems to have grown all the more distant since the death of Masterji’s wife Purnima a year ago?

How far will people go to get what they want?

Will one man be enough to stand up against corruption in society?

And what makes a person good or bad?

To know all these, you have to read the book.

I thought this was an interesting book. It took a little while to warm up but then picked up really well. It really makes you question humanity in general particularly the lengths that people can go to when they are desperate. It also makes you question issues around good versus bad and whether deep down some people are evil or whether circumstances make them that way. Adiga delves into the corruption that is rife in Indian society and how sometimes it is a struggle for one man alone to fight the system. Especially when the system is bought by the corrupt and rich few. I found all the characters interesting and intriguing, each with their own background stories and morals. Some of them I must admit, reminded me of people I’ve encountered over the years. Mrs Puri in particular was one of those characters most people might have encountered — a martyr of sorts but a hypocrite at other times. Your regular nosey neighbour.

I’d picked up the book ages ago because my maternal grandparents lived in Vakola and it was an area I’d frequented for years. It definitely brought back memories of the area and well, of Bombay in general. Bombay — the city of dreams. But also, the city that can make or break you.

In short, I really liked this book. Even more than the one that won the Booker Prize! I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This post first appeared on my personal blog

The White Tiger

…by Aravind Adiga.

The story is about Balram, born in one of the poorest villages in India, the Darkness, as he calls it; he is forced out of school to work in a local tea shop. As the boy realizes that he is no good at helping out in the shop, he decides he wants to learn driving to become a driver. And he goes on to achieve his goal…a local taxi driver teaches him driving for a price and then Balram finds a job as a driver to one of the landlords’ family from his village. Eventually, he moves to Delhi with the landlord’s son, an American return.

What happens in Delhi, how Balram grasps the master-servant divide that is prevalent all over the country, how he gets fed up being the servant and plots bigger plans, how he goes from a driver in Delhi to a rich entrepreneur in Banglore, what all he sacrifices, what gruesome acts he does in order to achieve his ambition to become that business man…all that constitutes to the rest of this interesting tale. Sometimes intriguing, sometimes witty, the book delves well into that big divide of classes, the rich and the poor, in India.

I have mixed feelings about the book, mostly negative.

While, I can say that the author keeps language and the narration simple and storyline was somewhat interesting, there was some level of depth lacking to the story.  The author paints a good picture of all the characters, sure. But I found it hard to connect with any of those characters. While I did feel pity for everything Balram had to go through, I couldn’t get myself to understand why he would go to the level of killing his master…the one he repeatedly says he liked and was faithful to. Yes, the reasons were given as to why he did what he did, but that wasn’t compelling enough to justify his acts, I felt.

So yeah, I can’t say it’s one of the best reads ever.

If you watched Slumdog Millionaire and didn’t like the storyline because you thought it portrayed India in a negative way, then this book is not for you. It has many similar elements – the corrupt politicians, the dirty slums (and the westernizing cities), the heartless criminals, the I-will-do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-ahead (even murder) attitude, the exploit-the-poor mind-set, etc.

Overall, an ok novel with a good narrative…that’s about it.

My rating: 2*.

*for the rating scale, click here.