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No Spoilers (I think)

Practically read it in a single go. As the book jacket indicates this is an evocative story of love, naïveté, narrow minded orthodoxy, spite, rustic aggression and native conflict resolution.

Saroja runs away from home, marries Kumaresan of a different caste. The couple land up at his mother’s thatched hut in a backward village in Tamilnadu expecting initial trouble and grudging acceptance of the inter-caste marriage. What follows gives a fine insight into the working of the rural-orthodox mindset.

The description of the setting of the villages, a small town and their people is extremely authentic. The ease with which locales are brought to the mind’s eye says that this is not research; it is all in the author’s blood. A note on the author elsewhere suggests that this is his strong point.

However, the most striking aspect of the novel is the way Murugan gets under the skin of his characters. Having seen a Tamil rustic life at close quarters, one instantly recognises the moves, emotions, actions and exaggerated drama of the players as totally real and convincing. The story narration and the dialogue is so well written that you can actually see flesh-and-blood characters, especially Marayi, protagonist Saroja’s mother-in-law.

A few references in the book suggest that this is a throwback in time, but the author focuses on the ever prevalent casteist practice. He admirably refrains from critiquing this evil or being obviously judgmental and sticks to the narration of the story. Nevertheless, the fact that the whole episode tumbles along with every actor preoccupied with this contemptible practice is enough to bring disdain about it in the readers’ mind.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan’s translation preserves a lot of authentic Tamil flavour especially the colourful and dramatised speech found in the economic class represented in the story. One achingly misses the original Tamil idioms and colloquialisms as the lyricism and the earthiness, especially in the rants, sarcasm and innuendo, would have been even more enjoyable. As my friend Poornima Prabhu suggested, an audiobook would have been terrific. The book itself gets 4.5 stars.

This was my first book by Perumal Murugan. I’m definitely going to read One Part Woman.

“It has always been science versus fundamentalism, not science versus religion.”
(Abhijit Naskar, Biopsy of Religions: Neuroanalysis Towards Universal Tolerance)

(Photo courtesy: http://www.businessinsider.com)

February 3, 2020: The luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess docked on Japanese shores and was promptly quarantined with 3711 people on board, because a passenger who had disembarked at Hong Kong two days earlier had tested positive for SARS-Cov-2, the Novel Corona virus causing COVID-19. Passengers & crew were either repatriated by their home countries or hospitalized in Japan over the next 4 weeks. Of them all, more than 700 were found to be infected with the virus. This was a unique opportunity – a Petri dish in a ship, if you may – for epidemiologists and virologists to study the disease and the virus.


At the beginning of this global pandemic, healthcare professionals and policy makers used data from the Diamond Princess experience and inferences thereof, such as infectivity & death rates, as a supplement to the observations from Wuhan to derive models of how the pandemic will play out in rest of the world. Later, after widespread devastation in Iran, Europe & the United States and after relative containment in Taiwan, South Korea & Singapore, experts have much larger datasets & a variety of scenarios to help develop disease prediction and control models.


So far, authorities in the Indian subcontinent appear to copy strategies of other countries to combat the pandemic. The curves of exponential ascendency of COVID-19 spread across countries appear identical, except in a few where healthcare response is more regimented. Yet, there are speculations about the survival of the virus in Indian climatic conditions, about Indians having a better innate resistance and about the impact of compulsory BCG vaccination in most Indians, that may have some effect on the expression of the disease in the country. Therefore, it may be worthwhile for India to study the actual transmission, clinical expression and outcomes of the disease in her own population and design responses to the pandemic based on these studies.


That is to say, we must find our own Diamond Princess before we find our Wuhan.


Indian government maintains that the COVID-19 pandemic has not reached Stage 3 in the country. Sceptics however, point at the shortened doubling rate and debunk the government’s position saying that community transmission of the SARS-Cov-2 has already begun. What is funny is that, even after knowing that India’s case trajectory is mirroring nearly every other country’s graph, the country – with people barely practicing adequate social distancing & violating lockdowns at their will – acts surprised that her COVID-19 numbers are rising! Prime time television is host to a raucous blame game: one set of people criticize the Government for a delayed initiation of lockdown & for poor organization of logistics; and another set of people hold reckless behavior by potentially infected individuals and groups as reason for rapid spread.


A singular event that has earned extraordinary ire from public & media as being the largest cluster of COVID-19 in India is the Tablighi Jamaat, as Islamic conference held in Nizamuddin Markaz, New Delhi in March. Following this congregation, there was a sudden upsurge in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in several states of India. Many states reported that, a major proportion of positive cases were delegates from the ‘Markaz’ congregation and their immediate contacts. Naturally, angry voices in the mainstream & social media were heard blaming the Tablighi, and implicitly the Muslim community for ‘un-flattening’ the COVID-19 curve. Some even accused Muslims of deliberately plotting to spread the disease in the country. That the Markaz delegates from some states refused to come forward for testing/quarantine as per Government advise, that Tik-Tok videos surfaced on how regular Namaz protects against Corona, and that healthcare workers trying to test the Markaz attendees were attacked in some places has not helped assuage this widespread suspicion.


Countering this blame are voices that criticize the establishment of selectively targeting the attendees for testing instead of making it more widespread. Their contention is that this lead to skewed statistics with disproportionate number of TJ cases. Fresh from the recent CAA protests, Muslims and their liberal supporters accused the Government and the right wing of aggravating the prevailing atmosphere of Islamophobia in the society.


In the midst of all this melee, what is overlooked is that the TJ congregation is a unique epidemiological opportunity for India to study the behavior of SARS CoV2 infection in the country.


Let me explain.


The events surrounding the TJ congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz in March aren’t very clear. Some reports say that the event was inaugurated by 2nd-3rd of March and thousands of delegates, many from overseas attended the gatherings during the ensuing days in batches. The annual Ijtema was held between 13th & 15th of March and some 4500 to 8000 delegates (depending on which news you read) attended this event. On March 16th, the Delhi Government ordered that no more than 50 people can gather for any meetings including religious conventions. Following this, and until the intervention of India’s National Security Advisor on 28-29th March, more than 2300 delegates were sequestered at the Markaz, apparently not wearing masks and not strictly practicing social distancing norms. The evacuation of all these delegates from the mosque was accomplished only between 29th and 31st of March.

Now, this situation is somewhat akin to the Diamond Princess scenario. Markaz delegates were adult men of different age groups and presumably some were with comorbidities. Since it was a well-planned conference, the identity and contact detail of every delegate is known to the organizers. A bit of investigation into the proceedings of the conference can help understand the type of interaction/contact the delegates have had with the others.


For the moment, let us ignore the number of people each of the COVID Positive delegates managed to infect after the conference. Purely focussing on the cohort of primary delegates, we can study

  1. Rate of COVID-19-19 infections without social distancing
  2. Among those testing positive, how many are symptomatic & how many will be asymptomatic ‘spreaders’?
  3. What percentage will develop severe infections requiring hospitalisation
  4. What will be the death rate?
  5. What are the factors that predict severe infection and mortality?

 

Data generated by such a study can still give unique insights which can be used to plan the future of the pandemic in the country. Fundamentally we have to understand that: attending a legally permitted religious conference is no crime. Contracting a contagion in the Markaz is no different than contracting it in a Luxury Cruise ship. Stigmatising Markaz attendees or their contacts is only going to feed the divisiveness.

On the other hand, volunteering information about going to Tablighi Jamaat Markaz is no embarrassment or blasphemy. Getting tested and submitting to quarantine as needed is a moral obligation of the delegates to their loved ones & the society around

Because, scientific spirit must trump fundamentalism to protect human race.

Spoilers: the plot twist is not given away


Rating: 4.5 on 5 for the sheer brilliance of the author’s technique (If you are looking at intrigue or an interesting story you can skip the book)

The Remains of the Day is a technical masterpiece dealing with the personality of a professional butler – a class that is now extinct. The novel is set in the time between the first and second world wars and gives brief glimpses of events such as the Versailles treaty, the Black Shirts movement and the Rise of Nazism.

But the heart of the novel is about the pathetic self-deception of Stevens, the Butler-protagonist. He has rigid ideas of what (not who) is a great butler and strives till the very denouement to keep within those confines. Stevens has served Lord Darlington for three decades and has been bought, along with the Darlington House, as ‘part of the package’ by Mr Farraday, a jovial businessman who displays a typical American casualness in the employer-employee relationship.

The novel opens with Stevens, having committed a few minor errors in his duties due to age, being offered by Mr Farraday a paid vacation – a road trip of the English countryside in the employer’s Ford. Stevens commissions himself that he will meet Miss Kenton, the ex-housekeeper of Darlington house with the ostensible purpose of bringing her back to supplement the now skeletal staff of the house.

Through Stevens’s monotonous reminiscences and rumination throughout the novel one comes to know of his parochial views on dignity, loyalty and unquestioning faith of Butlers to their masters. One sadly learns that he has strived to become a great butler at the expense of not giving in to feelings during his father’s death, as well as in his restraint from expressing his true feelings to the lady love, perhaps the only emotional relationship he ever betrays in the whole book.

Through sparse events and repetitive thinking of the past, the true tragedy of the futility of Stevens’ clinging to his perception of ‘duty’ is peeled away layer by layer. At the core of these events is the politics of Europe at that time as presented from an extremely tubular vision of the butler, yet sufficient for us to know the impact of it all on his own personal failure.

The high point of the novel is the stunning technique. The plot of the novel itself needn’t have been longer than a short story. In fact, this novel is so reminiscent of Henry James’s short story, ‘The Real Thing’, that has a near identical concept. Ishiguro’s control of Stevens’s monochromatic thought process and the emotional rigidity with which he perceives events around him are simply extraordinary. His portrayal of a joyless, naive, uni-dimensional upright servant is unswervingly consistent. Not once there is a slip from the mould that the author has made for the protagonist. Even when Stevens encounters events out of the ordinary like when offered a cup of tea by a village woman, he remains bland without enjoying the moment with his concocted sense of propriety. He’s so obsessed with ‘dignity’ which he defines as ‘one should not remove one’s clothes in public’ that he keeps his feelings from himself, deceiving himself that one realises at the end that he doesn’t want to be ‘naked’ to himself. This whole persona, the actions and the thought process are achieved from some brilliant writing by Ishiguro.

Yet, the author shows – without breaking this discipline – chinks in Stevens’s rumination thus revealing to us his unaccepting awareness of the futility of his life. This peeling away of the mask is done masterfully. The tragedy in the novel is that at the end Stevens simply redefines his goal and resolves to learn a new skill – bantering – to entertain his new master thus reflecting his servile mindset.

The language is simple and precisely controlled. There is no flourish, no lyrical prose or hyperbole. The gloomy sentiment, very proper and formal British exchanges are only occasionally embellished with few episodes of wry humour. But couched in this very same language Ishiguro uses two metaphors so brilliantly: one at the beginning when Stevens drives away from the familiar landscape of Darlington and the other at the end when the pier lights are turned on signifying the remaining day! It’s a literary equivalent of an Easter egg!

In a sense the canvas appears very narrow: pre-WW II Britain, a nobility and it’s foot servants who are no longer relevant. But in the end, it is also about someone not seizing the moment and looking back with regret about how different life could have been. Kazuo Ishiguro delivers a powerful lesson using a bleak story in a sombre tone.

A tweet by friend @dankchikidang in response to another @johncusack today reminded me of this short review I had written on the book in 2017 on Facebook and I’m publishing it here today.

Things that Can and Cannot be Said is purported Conversations between Arundhati Roy, John Cusack, Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers fame) and Ed Snowden.

(Admin, please feel free to delete this post if some lines appear contriversial, you can trust me it’s coming out of analysis of the book and not with an intention of airing my political views).

This book disappoints you on three counts.

One, the back cover with the four personalities gives an impression that it is about some serious discussion between them. It isn’t. It is mainly excerpts from random conversations between Roy and Cusack, mainly Roy since Cusack is mostly passive rejoinders. From Snowden, nothing really as direct speech but more of Roy’s impression of him or she quoting him.

Two, there’s no great revelation or exposé here. Of Super Nations & mass surveillance, of regime change & origin of refugee, of free market fundamentalism & human rights, of ultra-right radicalism & NGO-ization of the revolution, it’s all Roy’s favourite old essay topics.

No doubt, Roy’s indignation at denial of justice by nation-states, and at Capital greed directing human history in a wrong direction, are all provocative and rational thought.

Lastly, in a very personal manner, Roy’s preoccupation with Palestine and Kashmir, her selective anti-hindu diatribe also disappoints me. I’m a rather neutral Hindu and my wife is a Kashmiri pandit who was driven out of her homeland during the turmoil. I believe ghettoisation in India is also because of appeasement politics. It beats me as to how Roy refuses to criticize non-hindus and how she equates all oppression to right wing fascism. Unfortunately, that theme continues in this book.

If you know her work from before, save your money and a couple of hours by not buying this one!

Short story is a tough genre to master. Plot, adequate sketch of at least one character, Grip, Brevity, Conflict, Good language & Closure all become indispensable ingredients for this brew. Rahul Vishnoi’s ‘Gather my Bones’ doesn’t disappoint in any of these departments; in fact, the story excels in a few. 
The fact that the author is a maxillofacial surgeon, one expected a medicine-related story, especially given its title. But starting right at the first paragraph he establishes that it’s a crime-thriller. Gather my Bones is a macabre psychological whodunnit with a neat plot twist at the end.
The story is in first person & Vishnoi has navigated the switch between internal reflections of the protagonist & her observations of the surroundings with aplomb. The slick transition between these two milieux is what gives this story its character.
The language is pretty good & easy, though a stray sentence here or a word there could have been written differently to prevent momentary loss of grip. But the overall tempo of the story more than makes up for this. In all a very good short story. I’m certainly looking forward to reading other fare from this author.

Rating 4/5

The face of the author on the book cover belies the maturity in the poems & their expression. Superficially it’s possible to dismiss this as a bunch of poems on unrequited love. But even on cursory skimming it hits you after a few poems: there is  a surreal depth to the feelings; there is despair, desolation & seeking of beauty in those hopeless moments (‘Sometimes it’s so beautiful/to be destroyed completely/By love’).
I’m not a poetry geek but even I could see that the first-timer hasn’t fallen into the simile-metaphor trap. Feelings have been wrenched out, crystallised into words and thrown at you; that too with amazing conciseness (‘Life would have been so easy/If death wasn’t so difficult).
It’s easy to see the depth of emotions, perhaps commonplace in those hopelessly in love. What additionally comes through is the person who rises above to see the realisation of conflict there (You hurt me/So I went on to hurt someone else/And that someone else loved me more/Now I don’t know what hurts me more).
I’m not sure it’s intentional, but I suspect that a father figure lurks in some poems. I guess that’s inevitable with young poetesses. That further enhances the poetry in my opinion (‘I see you in every man/I could hopelessly be in love/And still see you in him/I want to leave you behind/But I don’t have the courage to run’)
There are pictures taken by the author, paired with the text. I’m naive to photography. I will leave you to figure how the photos & poems compliment each other.
In all, a tremendous first collection. The potential of the poet and her language are there to see. Surely, Rashmi Raghunath is to be watched among the younger Indian English authors.
My rating: four & a half on five. 

My first, and possibly last, Cyrus Mistry. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is the story of Elchi, born to a high-priest of the Parsi community but condemned to live the life of a ‘low sub-caste’, a corpse bearer because he fell in love and married Sepideh, a Kandhia’s daughter. In equal measure the book is also about the plight of the Kandhias or corpse bearers of the Parsi community.

The good things first. Mistry has an excellent control over his language. His use of words & phrases, complex and unexpected at places, serves to bring an unambiguous picture of events & situations exactly as he might have intended.

The little known cultural rituals and ‘secrets’ of the Parsi community & castes have been brought out very well. Towards the end Mistry, it appears, feels like a snitch to have shown us the skeletons! Though I’m tempted to compare Corpse Bearer with UR Ananthamurthy’s ‘Samskara’, but both by a) dealing with individual conflicts far too well and by b) being a technical masterpiece that examines the flaws of a Brahmin society, the latter book is several notches above Corpse Bearer.

The live imagery of the twentieth century Mumbai, interspersed through the book feels authentic and the author manages to take you alongside him into the dockyards & by-lanes of the city.

My issues: The book starts out well as a hauntingly dull story. Throughout, Mistry teases you with the pain & grime he’s capable of showing but rarely goes the whole hog. Elchi’s encounters with the prostitute, the madman, the hysterical crowd at the Dargah or his tryst with his friend Rohinton (a symbol for Mistry’s own more successful older brother?) are all too brief and only titillate you with a glimpse of the potential of the novel.

The treatment of Seppa, Elchi’s wife and their love story is too sketchy. If the protagonist threw away his outside chance to be a high priest and chose to be a Corpse Bearer because of his love for a girl, there ought to have been more about the girl and the love.

My biggest issue, however, is with the technique of the novel. It hits you early on. The author has chosen a first person narrative. But the writing is too sophisticated for a semi-literate, ‘dull-minded’, unimaginative person the writer has chosen as his hero. I don’t mean the language at all, mind you. The insights, the observations and the understanding of issues around, for instance the Quit India movement, are of a person with a far higher intellect than Elchi our narrator. Obviously, Mistry is sitting right on Elchi’s head and sometimes we hear both of them, (irritatingly, in juxtaposed sentences) that you can’t help but say WTF. The attempt to cleverly blend in the freedom movement also doesn’t work very well.

In all, an excellent choice of subject with a mundane but potentially interesting story, stopped short of being a great book because the author was hesitant in exploring events to their full potential and had his personal viewpoint dominating the protagonist’s. Superb language and some very well sketched characters. My rating two and a half on five.

The questions, the insights, the metaphors in Franz Kafka’s short story, ‘A Hunger Artist’ are formidable.

Re-read the Classic; these are the issues it raises in me:

Your work & your art, how important is it to your existence and how much of your life it is to you, will they understand?

How you toil to make it as perfect as it can be, do they know?

Do they realise that, beyond the narrow glimpses of you that they get to have, you still continue to strive?

Do they think that your struggle is a facade you wear and that when they go away, you become someone other than the workman you are?

Do they think you cheat in your art when they are not looking?

Does it hurt you when you know you are more gifted than your greatest work so far, but they think this is your best?

When another performer takes over their attention, does the worth of your art diminish, though you gave all your life for it?

When you say that your art is easy for you, do they respect your skill of doing it with ease? Or do they think yours is a trivial job?

Do they understand your purpose, your raison d’être? Or is it a just a passing show like a gory accident by the roadside for them?

Long post Alert, few spoilers

Rating: Four and a half stars

Saartha by Dr SL Bhyrappa is perhaps his most complex work. The novel purports to examine the historical period when two ancient Indian religious practices were pitted against a newfound Buddhism through a story of a personal struggle of the protagonist.

Self-discovery/homecoming or discovery of philosophy/faith during an actual journey dates back to Homer. Extraordinary authors such as John Bunyon have used allegory to examine philosophical/canonical meanings in geo-historical occurrences. There are also a breed of modern ‘philosophers’ who – I won’t name them – have conjured up hypothetical (or at least geographically/historically only partially sincere) journeys to bring to speed attractive thoughts. Appealing as the latter’s form maybe to the 21st century’s instant noodle cravings, real beauty lies in the substance of the former. Like gemstones the imitations can never top the Real McCoy.

Saartha is solidly built on extensively researched history and geography of 8th century India. And unlike a mere epic, what makes this book very special is the author’s exploration of interaction of Meemamsa, Advaita and Bouddha thought processes in addition to the flesh-and-blood story of self-evaluation.

Saartha loosely translates into ‘Caravan’. This was a 7th-8th century device where a Saarthavaha – captain – and his team provided elephants/horses/camels/carts and protection to traders who joined in with their wares, paying a fee to travel along across ancient Bharatakhanda buying and selling at various stops. A Saartha was thus a train where traders got on and off at cities per their convenience.

Amaruka the king of Taravati, an imaginary kingdom – ostensibly to learn the inner workings of a Saartha – deploys Nagabhatta, our protagonist into one of the caravans with a publicly declared purpose of traveling to Kashi for furthering the study of Vedas. He is entrusted the job of getting close to the ‘Shresthis’, the head traders of the Saartha who would unsuspectingly pass on their trade secrets to him because he is ‘harmless’. And in turn Bhatta will help Amaruka set up a Saartha benefiting the kingdom.

Here’s the beauty of the two-fold plot: Nagabhatta learns at the beginning of the novel that this was a ploy by the king to seduce his wife thus leading him to a search of personal love. And he witnesses on ground the ideological differences between the Idol worshippers – mostly commoners, fire or form worshipping Vedic practitioners and the atheistic (& then firmly established) Buddhists.

On the one hand, Nagabhatta’s helpless role-change into Krishnananda (the stage actor who is discovering love and lust), his seeking and experimentation with various non-buddhist cults abound in the 8th century including his own Vaideeka, Tantra, vamachara and aghoric practices, his attraction to the buddhist thinking nicely bring out the sansaric & philosophical dilemmas man went through at a personal level in those days.

On the other hand SL Bhyrappa tries to document the historical conflict between the then firmly rooted Buddhism and a shaky Vedic/Sanatana religion (the term Hinduism didn’t exist then and he doesn’t use it). The bringing in of places like Mahishmati, Magadha, Kashi, Nalanda, the historical figures Huen Tsang, Mandana Mishra, kumarila bhatta, (Ubhaya) Bharati, Sankara and the narration of the Tarkas (philosophical arguments) between the Mimamsa and Advaita schools have been done beautifully. One imagines one was put in a time machine and made to witness it all in first person.

Particularly brilliant is the point of debate when (Ubhaya)Bharati asks Sankara: “you say that Atman unites with Brahman and it leads to Ananda. Upanishads say that this union happens even in Sushupti (an unconscious state, different from sleep). How is this ecstasy different from the ecstasy of a man at the height of his union with a woman when he is unaware physically and mentally of anything other than that union?”

The geopolitical (including the Muslim & Afghan impacts) and scriptural research is formidable.The descriptions of the buddhist school in Nalanda transports you to that time and place. The quest for an ideal philosophy and the resolution of the protagonist’s dilemmas are done in the setting of well researched historical settings and well sculpted characters in the novel.

Now for the negatives:

The tone of the novel is decidedly anti-buddhist. Not the buddhist philosophy but way they propagated the religion. The creation of yakshas in the image of the prevailing Vedic gods to lure less learned people into Buddhism and converting productive young people into monks has been criticised. The continued profession based caste system even after an artisan converts to Buddhism, thus making no qualitative difference at the ground level has been argued against. Buddhism is seen as opportunistic and proselytizing through influence over the then rulers. True, Nagabhatta sees beauty in the Buddhist philosophy itself but the book (?unduly) concentrates on another aspect of the religion.

The language, classical Kannada, as his usual is too scholarly. While contextual/syntactic reading is possible average Kannada readers may find the prose a bit daunting. I do not know how the English translation is worded.

Unlike many philosophy-based books that are poetic in style (Kahlil Gibran comes immediately to mind), the rendition of thoughts is very cut & dry. While cerebral, these parts of the novel are not fun to read.

Setting aside the dry language and author’s pro-Vedic tilt, this period novel captures a personal and philosophical journey in a scholarly manner. A worthwhile read.

My review of Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Golden House’. (long post alert)

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Spoilers: as in the book jacket and a little more.

Salman Rushdie’s much awaited (I waited for it!) 13th novel starts out to be an epic saga of wealthy family members, incidentally starting from the time of President Obama’s coronation until the time of ascension of the next president who is called The Joker. In addition to chronicling the power & personal struggles of Nero Golden and his children, the novel ambitiously purports to examine the rise of conservative forces in the US, making it a personal and a parallel-ly intertwined political story.

Nero Golden, with a murky past & no-name from his previous avatar in Mumbai, flees to USA ostensibly after his wife is killed in the Taj attack. We quickly realise that this was a long-planned move, with carefully planned erasure of old identities and taking up of new ones for Nero himself and his three sons. Unlike a typical fugitive-from-the-past who would want to end up quietly in an obscure town somewhere, Nero, a name which he himself chooses after the last Roman emperor, enters – with some bluster and panache – the elite Greenwich village of New York City and runs a corporate ‘construction’ empire stamping his opulent presence in the conservative American business world.

Deploying allegories and rich references from Roman history and mythology, the novel also purports to document the struggle for identity of the three sons Petronius, Lucius Apuleius & Dionysus: Petya is autistic gaming wizard with agoraphobia; Apu is a liberal wannabe ‘protestor’ not taken seriously by the ‘movement’ because he’s wealthy; and D has a gender identity crisis.

Knowing Salman Rushdie’s pro-democratic views and his liberal opinions on identity politics, when the novel includes the big Bombay events (1993 blasts & 27/11 attacks) from India and all of USA’s crises (the Housing bubble, Wall Street manipulations, Charlottesville, Joker-Batwoman election run-up, rise of the radical right), and when he’s integrating it into the story of the Goldens, expectations are sky high. Like readers, even the author must have excitedly hoped to deliver a magnum opus intending to climax the two threads spectacularly tragically.

That The Joker won 2016, while Nero – so much of Trump, in his character really – has something else in store is also an opportune godsend for Rushdie to achieve a scintillating finish. To top it, Rushdie chose Reneé, a film writer as the narrator observing the Golden household with an intent to make a ‘mockumentary’, allowing him to insert a large number of classic cinema allusions.

That the novel fails to integrate the political and the personal stories is its greatest failure. With a ‘flat’ chemistry between these two aspects, the novel is a slow account of the Goldens’ lives alternating with Rushdie’s sermons on liberalism, gender identity, post-truth, religiousness etc.

While the initial character build-up has been so fabulous (the invoking of the Baba Yaga witch legend to describe Nero’s opportunistic Russian second wife is exquisitely done), the build up of the subsequent story is done monotonously in the narrator’s voice. This renders the mood practically soulless and sterile. Indeed, the unshackling of Petya when he draws his perimeter and the wrenching angst D undergoes during his quest for gender identity could have been such seminally emotional events. Both lose the impact due to linear, dull tone of the narration.

Rushdie’s trademark language is there. Characters talk theatrically, often in hyperbole. The redundancy of adjectives and adverbs, the impudent out-of-context exclamations are there and so are classical literary, music and cinema references. But that’s the Rushdie we have grown to accept. You don’t analyse his sinewy phrases and paragraph-long sentences when he implies the magical: we read by gestalt. I have no complaints, I enjoy this.

In all, a great premise for the novel, at an opportune period in history with some fine writing in the first 100 pages with a potential for a macabre classic didn’t deliver for me: it’s political commentary as memorable in the morning after as the Stephen Colbert/Trevor Noah criticisms and without even the good laughs. It could have been another Midnight’s Children: only it wasn’t.