Ira Kamat is a level-headed, ambitious, career-oriented civic beat reporter. She thrives to do her job earnestly and uncovers the corrupt instances of the municipal corporation in Mumbai. Kartik is a man of few words and stuck at a dead-end job. They were childhood friends living in Matunga, Mumbai but separated in pursuit of their career. After thirteen years they meet again on the terrace of Asha Nivas and then love transpires. Unrequited love.
Going down the memory lane, Ira and Kartik rekindles their friendship and cherish their comfort around each other surprisingly even after 13 years. The story unfolds as one goes closer to knowing them carefully retrieving its layer one bit at a time. They both find solace in each other. Something missing in their own lives. They discover love but not for each other.
Mahale paints a beautiful picture of Mumbai
Shortlisted for JCB Prize for Literature 2019, this novel depicts the love of the author for Mumbai. Mahale has turned Mumbai into a breathing, walking, and talking soul narrating its story of transformation through the guise of changing relationships in Asha Nivas. The narrow lanes, local trains, hawkers, vendors, tattered homes, and flooded roads, and everything else is home for the middle-class in Mumbai.
Change is the only constant yet sometimes it becomes difficult to move on. The tenants of Asha Nivas want to live in a better place yet somehow they are unable to come to terms with the idea of leaving behind Matunga. Bombay is their home. Matunga is home. No matter how shabby it is. It is still their home. Accepting the urbanisation, the changing face of Bombay is challenging. They are aware of the fact that moving from Matunga is the need of the hour and their only option yet their hearts lie in the tattered walls, and cramped rooms of Matunga.
Local Trains – Heart of the city
Mahale has poignantly described the heart of the city – local trains. The core and backbone of the middle class in Mumbai. The mundane circle of its passengers, varied personalities on the train, struggling to board and de-board in the rush hour, the rant for petty issues everything is alive in front of the reader.
Ira is a strong female protagonist overshadowing the rest
I particularly enjoyed reading about Ira. Strong headed character, standing up for what she believes in even if means to argue with her future mother-in-law. Her courage never wavers. She doesn’t give in to societal pressure and always follows her heart. Her backstory reveals about her relationships of the past and how she also suffers in the hands of love. I admired Ira for her passion to bring a change. I felt sad for her loss and her delusional sense of love.
On the surface, this book talks about the innocent bond of friendship, the aftermath of terrorist attacks on Muslims, and the difficulties of accepting who you are even to yourself through Kaiz and Kartik. Kiaz makes us realise the challenges Muslims face in their own country. He feels Mumbai has never accepted him. Especially after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Kaiz had to remove his nameplate in order to not get noticed.
Kartik, on the other hand, is lonely, confused, and selfish. He has his own set of problems and marrying Ira seems to resolve at least some of them. Until he realises that his problems are not really problems but his own inability to accept himself. He is one character which I had trouble developing an affection since the beginning. I found him too proud, selfish, and self-absorbed. Even after 13 years later he is the same Kartik. Nothing has changed. He lacked a spine or maybe Mahale wanted him to be like that but I expected more from him.
It has some evident highs and lows
The book ebbs and flows throughout. Sometimes picking up the pace and rising exponentially but sometimes stooping down. The number of highlights I have made for this book itself tells that this could have been way much better. It had the capacity to be great but somehow it couldn’t. Though I still liked the book.
I enjoyed the beginning and Ira’s backstory which was about two-thirds of the book. It kept me invested. The rest of the parts were skimmed, to be honest. I wish Mahale would have continued exploring Mumbai in Kartik’s narration as well. It seems disjointed as a whole book as if Kartik was living in another world cut off from the first part.
Overall, if you want a self-exploration through Mumbai you would enjoy some parts of it. More for the writing less for the plot. Recommending it with reluctance but if you do decide to read it, I am sure you would have your own set of highlights.
Do you read Indian authors? Have you read this one? If not, does this interest you?
If you consider getting a copy after reading this post, please buy it from Amazon