BIG CITY BLIGHTS

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By ANAND MAZUMDAR
  • Published 23.09.05
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THE RADIANCE OF ASHES
By Cyrus Mistry,
Picador, ?16.99

Jingo, Jehangir or Jimmy ? call him what you will ? is the quintessential modern drifter. Adrift in the urban morass that is Mumbai, he?s swimming to survive ? sometimes with the current but, mostly, against it. He believes that his best bet is his gift of empathy that allows him to enter the minds of others. And if the other person is a woman and Jingo?s had a few stiff ones, then it?s plain what he wants to get into.

One?s never quite sure with Jingo, nor is he about himself at times. He had once adamantly refused to go abroad for higher studies, spurning class privilege in ?this hideously unequal society?. Drifter, dreamer, dropout ? Jingo is a throwback to the Sixties? ?beatnik?, though he hates being labelled so.

As a part-time door-to-door market researcher, Jingo believes he?s collecting insights for a novel. But is he serious about his avowed intent? Or is he too laid-back to ever be a writer? A social order that is ubiquitously cruel can be paralysing ? that?s how he justifies his own inertia.

The narrative segues effortlessly from a middle-class Parsi housing colony to a far-flung slum on the outskirts of the city. Jingo?s somnolent existence meanders along until suddenly one day his self-induced torpor is shattered by the Mumbai riots. Memories of a bitter love story continue to haunt Jingo but it?s only when his other romance ? with the city ? erupts in a nightmare that he realizes that he had better wake up before it?s too late.

Being an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, one expected Cyrus Mistry?s debut novel to come alive with some terse, well-appointed dialogue that would bring to life the sights, sounds and colours of Mumbai and its modern Parsi diaspora. Sadly, the interaction is flaccid and rambling. The spoken language is too hip and anglicized to truly reflect the visceral experience that is modern Mumbai.

At times, the novel takes itself too seriously. It could have done with a touch of humour. In fact, there are some situations that lend themselves far better to humour than to the ponderous gravity with which they are treated.

All said and done, this is an interesting tale of desire and dreams. It?s also a poignant exploration of familial bonds, the intrinsic truths that are deeply embedded in us and the facades that we erect. It?s about the fires that rage in us, and which remain there long after the flames have died down.