Author: Cyrus Mistry
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
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The Radiance of Ashes, Cyrus Mistry’s second novel, is the story of “drifter, dropout, dreamer…Jingo.” A young man from a middle-class, Parsi family, Jingo’s only vague ambition is to write a book that chronicles the times he lives in. Nursing a broken heart after a love affair gone awry, Jingo meanders restlessly through the inroads and by lanes of Mumbai’s claustrophobic geography, ruminating on life, love, loss, family, the bourgeois rat-race and similar concerns. An unfortunate altercation with the cops leads our young hero to hide out in Nehrunagar, a sprawling slum on the outskirts of the city. Events come to a head with the politically strategic demolition of Babri Masjid and the subsequent communal riots and Jingo finds himself finally jolted out of his paralysis, faced with “…the forces that felled a tolerant, cosmopolitan society.” (India Today)
The novel adheres to the classical form of a bildungsroman or the coming-of-age story of the male artist. Though it is written in the third person point of view, it’s centrally preoccupied with Jingo- his desires, aspirations, memories, fears and insecurities. Jingo is not a startlingly original creation- all his philosophical and political ruminations are well-worn, even adolescent. His distaste for and unease with the social inequality and oppressive structures he sees around himself, while making him a compassionate figure, lack any finesse of insight.
The love story told through flashbacks is annoying and does not excite sympathy or interest of the reader, primarily because Jingo is something of an obtuse sexist and Christina needlessly paranoid and self-destructive. Jingo asks himself a lot of questions about life and love but the purpose seems to be not a sincere quest for answers but a dazzling show of introspection for an audience. I also really wish that Mistry hadn’t consulted the thesaurus quite so often, especially in the first half of the novel where mile-long sentences are laden with adjectives. For example, “Heaps of great grey clouds parted momentously, momentarily, flashing bright beams of yellow light that refracted in the wet surfaces of tarred roads, on the hoods of cars and buses hedge in by, or twisting in choked traffic, on the bemused gargantuan faces of heroes, heroines and bloodthirsty villains staring out of gaily coloured cinema hoardings. ”
What redeems the novel is the protagonist’s (and Mistry’s) sincere love affair with Mumbai in all its sprawling, chaotic glory. Jingo’s directionless drifting takes him from a middle-class Parsi housing colony to a far-flung slum, from lavish bourgeois parties to crowded local railway compartments to illicit hashish dens. The cast of characters is also wonderfully eclectic- college graduates with flashy jobs, political goons, corrupt cops, immigrant child labourers and social activists.
Read it once for Mumbai.
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