Death Of Vishnu - Manil Suri

Manil Suri writes well, although my feel is that he's really good at short stories. Death of Vishnu is an interesting book, at the face of it, it revolves around a character named Vishu, his death (obviously) and how it affects the eco-system that he exists in. The story seems to be set in the 80's, although the author doesnt date it - the book develops around Vishu, an odd-job man, who has a space under the staircase of a typical Bombay "building" and makes his living by doing odd-jobs for the folks in the building. Their lives are inevitably linked and as he is slowly dying it affects the players in his eco-system.

While I was reading the book, I didnt think much of it - but now that I look back on it I have to admit that there are several layers that run through this book - characters are introduced, you peek into their lives and invariably there is an element of a sexual escapade, either of the characters or of Vishnu - it felt like the author had a pattern - short story - sex - short story - sex - short story - sex. This might be due to the inordinate amount of time the author initially spends on the Pathak and Asrani households and interleaves with flashbacks of Vishnu's escapades. The story starts with Vishnu dead center, then making way for the side players to the point where you want to skip through the portions of Vishnu and figure out whats going to happen to the other players.

As the story progressed, the story took on a larger meaning, I felt like the character Mr. Jalal, looking for a sign to attribute what I was reading - Vishu was the god Vishnu and each episode was like life and death an episode ended another birthed and on and on went the cycle.

Just when I had settled on this interpretation, I felt rationally, really it wasn't a story about Vishnu at all, he was the common thread through several stories and through his death he brought about an upheaval of some sorts. Each story was different and even then it was the same - about life and how the daily routine takes it toll on aspirations and hopes that people had when they were younger.

Then again it felt like a view into Indian life in the 70's / 80's and you find references into stories that you heard from your parents about how they grew up and got married. Ah - layers.

Like I said eariler, Mani Suri writes well - there is one particular episode that will stay with me always - he uses an episode of eating mangoes as a tribute to a woman - of making love and the metamorphisis of a woman into a mother from a lover. Unlike Mr. Suri, I cant write as well to describe it. Priceless...

This book is a quick read and you'll probably come away with different perspectives, I felt that in more than a few places he was actually thinking in Hindi and translated his thoughts to English and it shows - perhaps for the global audience, but having heard those tunes and knowing the phrases and language - it dilutes the effect of his writing somewhat.

An interesting read overall, a good break while I make my way through Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.


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