Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

"He secretly regarded novels as quaint, irrelevant oddities--complex, imaginative enterprises produced by people who needed to dignify the interminability of their idleness" (283).

The protagonist of The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, 25-year-old Karan, came to Bombay "in search of images that would reveal its most sublime, secret stories" (6). This revelation is also the aim of the novel, which follows Karan and his unexpected associates. Karan meets reclusive Samar Arora, a former child prodigy who decided to get out of the limelight while his musical career was still at his peak, on an assignment from India Chronicle. Samar introduces Karan to Zaira, a beautiful, but shy Bollywood actress famous enough to be known only by her first name. Zaira sends Karan on a question to the Chor Bazaar, where he comes across his eventual lover, Rhea Dalal, a homemaker who gave up a promising artistic career for her husband.

A writer has to be pretty gutsy to kill off one of his novel's most sympathetic characters a third of the way through it, even if his story is based on a real life murder. Honestly I wasn't sure whether the The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay would hold up once Zaira was no longer an active participant in its story. Luckily, it does. Zaira also continues to be a driving force in the novel even at the end of its story years after her death.

I was particularly taken with this passage:
Karan found that over time he had not come to forget Zaira, as conventional wisdom would have him believe; rather, he had come to remember her better. Her particulars were now sharp and resplendent, like the head of a spear. Countless details fretted in the air like disturbed mites before they slowly congealed to form something composite and solid, a thing that stood in direct, cavalier opposition to the haze of memory.
Reluctantly, sadly, he had come to accept that a human being was composed not only of everything that he possessed but also of all that he had lost. (293)

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