Thursday, February 07, 2008

Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games: A Review

By John Cheeran
Finally I finished it - reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games.
Sacred Games’ volume kept me away from it for more than a year but with nothing better to do during these days I raced through with delight and towards the end with disappointment.
Vikram Chandra does not need any certificate from me for his ability as a writer. He writes well and the world has recognized his talent.
Sacred Games, however, does not go beyond being a page-turner. And even in that sense, Chandra lets the reader down after promising much in the early stages of the novel.
Chandra has spent considerable energy in building Ganesh Gaitonde’s character but it all comes to naught when he tackled the mystery surrounding his suicide.
Only a naïve reader would be convinced by Chandra’s reasoning that Gaitonde shot himself when provoked by a pimp that his great turn on Zoya Mirza was faking it all.
Where else have you read a crime lord committing suicide when questioned about his virility?
Chandra should have tried harder to work his plot better.
So is the mystery regarding Sidharth Shukla, the guru, who had a master plan to remake the universe but Chandra makes him vanish without enough explanations.
It is quite evident that Chandra started playing the Games without having much of a clue about the all-important end game.
Chandra, however, has a wonderful eye for detail and a dazzling sense of humour. He has managed to place the Sacred Games in the heart of contemporary India, and more specific, Mumbai.
Some of his lines have stayed with me. Let me quote him.
“I could put two bullets in every limb, one in her belly, one in her chut, one in that unreachable heart.” That is Gaitonde on Mirza.
Have some more. “When she smiled your heart slammed into your spine and staggered your back like a bullet.”
“Typing in ‘lauda’, I found a site for an airline named exactly that, and a site about some racing car driver.”
Chandra, I must say, had ambitions to match the scale and intensity of what Don Delillo achieved in his Underworld, but has fallen by quite a long distance.
In recent times there has been a spate of books on Mumbai. Sukutu Mehta’s Mumbai: the Maximum City and Gregory Robertson’s Shantaram were remarkable in their distinct ways. Maximum City was great journalism and Shantaram won praise for its fictionalized account of lives in peril.
Alas, Chandra has frittered away his opportunity to write that Great Indian Novel.
Better luck next time.

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