“A human being was composed not only of everything that he possessed but also of all that he had lost.”
As a book blogger, you’d think my job would be to tell you about good books, give reccos, tell you how a certain book made me feel (which varies from speechless to nauseous). Imagine my surprise then when over the last few weeks, people texted me to let me know they missed my reviews of terrible books.
When you know you have an audience, you give the audience what they want. Or so pop culture dictates.
The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is a book that you don’t really need to read. Think of all the crimes committed by celebrities/politicians/sons-of-the-baap-in-tu-jaanta-hai-mera-baap-kaun-hai, blend in a little bit of this, a cupful of that, and you have a mishmash of a “novel”, allegedly “fictional”, that gives the tabloid treatment to serious issues.
Let me begin by saying how smitten I was by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s first novel, The Last Song of Dusk. Set during the pre-independence era, that melancholy novel with its palaces and magical realism, tragedies and romances enthralled me. Maybe it’s just grown grander in memory. Maybe if I go back to it, I’ll read it without the rose-tinted glasses. Or maybe, it really was as good as I remember it to be.
If his name wasn’t on the cover in big bold letters, I wouldn’t have believed it was the same author that wrote both these books. Why, Shanghvi, why? How, Shanghvi, how?!
Summary: Karan Seth, your everyday small town boy, is trying to make it big in the everyIndiannovel glittering city of Bombay as a photographer. His boss gives him an assignment he considers impossible at first – photograph the reclusive, eccentric Samar Arora, a former pianist. Karan not only finishes the assignment (I mean, obviously!), he also gets invited into the inner circle of Samar, his boyfriend Leo, and his best friend, movie star Zaira (small town boy growing wings among the rich, sad, and famous).
Karan is also pursuing a personal project – to capture the city through photographs. It is then that he meets Rhea Dalal, a bored housewife and amateur potter. Rhea and he become friends, and later lovers.
In the midst of all this, we find out that Zaira has a stalker, Malik Prasad, son of a powerful minister of the Hindu People’s Party (I mean, riiiiight).
Several subplots begin. None end.
Characters: Kindergartners often draw crude stick figures and label them “Mom”, “Dad”, “Sun”, “Hen”… You couldn’t tell, but you still give them an “Awww” for effort. The characters in The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay are much like those stick figures. You know them because their names are next to them in dialogue. There’s no depth to these characters, and if there’s no depth, we really cannot expect any growth either. These characters are none-dimensional. Instead of their names, had Shanghvi identified them as the photographer, the pianist, the potter, the actress, the novel would’ve worked just as well. Some minor characters flit in and out to increase the tabloid realism quotient – like Rocky Khan, who in a drunken rage drives over people sleeping on the pavement. I kept waiting for Rocky to shoot some endangered animals as well, but that never happened.
Several characters show up. None do much.
Narrative: If the characters have no merit to speak of, then rest assured this isn’t a character-driven novel. You’d assume then that it’s a plot-driven narrative.Well, you’re wrong. For a narrative to be plot-driven, it needs to have a plot.
Several incidents occur. None to drive anything anywhere.
POVs: You’re on a bus to Goa. You’ve settled into your comfortable seat, the in-bus entertainment is, for a change, playing something decent instead of the same Govinda movie from the 90s. You’re looking forward to your vacation, when suddenly the driver announces, the bus is now headed to Lucknow instead and for the rest of the journey, only Hero # 1 will be played. On loop. That seat isn’t too comfortable now, is it?
Imagine three characters narrating the story (if you’re thinking, that’s not too bad – wait, hear me out); so imagine three characters narrating the story… in the same PARAGRAPH! You’re cruising along with Karan, nodding along (or not) to his monologue, when suddenly Zaira offers you her thought bubble. How very jarring.
Several thoughts and POVs. No insight.
Language: Oh my God where do I begin! Tell me where do I begin! Ok, I’ll begin with this:
“Glee dripped out of Natasha like precum.” (my apologies if you’re reading this at work)
How about this:
“Minister Chander Prasad had a habit of scratching his balls so savagely that his pubic lice experienced multiple orgasms.” (apologies for that as well)
I’d stop, but let me squeeze just one more in:
“The words escaped the Judge’s mouth involuntarily, like a premature ejaculation.”
Several metaphors. None non-sexytimestype.
What’s the bottomline then? It’s unoriginal, too familiar, too verbose, too purple, too pretentious, too preachy. Should you read this book? Do your pubic lice a favor – don’t.