apradhis & apsaras
Sacred Games, a new novel by Vikram Chandra, is at once literary, cultural, and compelling thriller. At nine hundred pages in length, it could appear daunting to a bookstore browser contemplating her next purchase, but most readers will be quickly hooked on this fascinating tale of Bombay crime & police work, which opens with a white dog named Fluffy screaming as she is hurled out the window of an apartment complex.
Chandra’s portrayal of his two main characters is one of the biggest pleasures of the book. Sartaj Singh, a Sikh policeman who first appeared in “Kama,” a short story published in the New Yorker in 1997, is divorced, introspective, & incredibly savvy. Thrust into an investigation of the hugely powerful crime boss Ganesh Gaitonde, Singh considers himself too small a man for the job, yet before long is uncovering crucial evidence from sources as diverse as street urchins to Miss India. Alternating with the tough yet sensitive police officer’s determined legwork is Gaitonde’s narrative, in which he reveals his most private personal history. He details the killings, arms smuggling, political payoffs, & daily operations of his G Company, but also holds nothing back in other, more human areas: the humble origins he would like to forget, the overwhelming love he feels for his infant son, & even a growing spirituality. The ruthless gangster who is devoid of compassion for his endless supply of whores (most quite young & a good many of them virgins) is nevertheless a sympathetic individual due to Chandra’s skillful pen.
Sacred Games also contains a number of subordinate characters & stories that greatly broaden its scope. The widow of Sartaj Singh’s murdered partner struggles to raise her two sons on a limited income. A sheltered young girl witnesses the violence of Partition. A determined Moslem woman abandons her family with a brief note (“Don’t try to find me”) & comes to Bombay to be a film star. And Sartaj Singh himself may find love at last. An essential (yet unfortunately incomplete) glossary of terms appears at the back of the book: Vikram Chandra sprinkles Hindi, Bombay slang, Malayalam, Punjabi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Kashmiri, & even Konkami at a steady clip throughout. A warning: if you take on this amazing novel, you’ll find it’s impossible to resist learning & perhaps employing some of its excellent curse words.
Baghdad Is Burning, created by an unidentified “girl blog from Iraq,” provides readers with an insider’s opinions on life in that occupied, chaotic country (see link above & at right). While the author tends to post sporadically, in recent days she has written about Sabrine al Janabi, a young woman who went public on Monday night with allegations that Iraqi security forces abducted & raped her. (An article also appears on the front page of today’s New York Times but, in keeping with that newspaper’s editorial policy, does not identify al Janabi.) Given that women in Iraq (& numerous other cultures) are generally shunned rather than nurtured if they’re victims of sexual assault, it is incredibly brave of this 20-year-old to describe her ordeal on television & to use her real name. The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al Maliki, initially promised a full investigation; however, only hours later he issued a second statement that smeared the victim as a liar & a wanted criminal.