Book Review: Love, lust and crime in Mumbai
Piyush Jha's Mumbaistan breaks no new ground in storytelling but delivers when to comes to interesting plots with several twists
What if on the day that Kasab and his nine accomplices wrecked havoc in Mumbai, another dinghy had landed on our shores of Mumbai? What if its five occupants were part of a sleeper cell and were plotting their attack even as the state Anti Terrorism Squad tried desperately to track and thwart them?
The first of the three stories in Piyush Jha’s Mumbaistan — this one is titled Bomb Day — is based on this premise. Caught between the terrorists and the cops is a young man, Tanvir, eager to finish his assignment and start a new life. As Tanvir tackles ACP Hani and dodges the bullets of Alamzeb, Jha takes the reader through the city’s crowded streets, his stage for this terror drama.
The book with its tales of terror, kidney racket and communal violence, threatens to be another clichéd portrayal of Mumbai, where no one can be trusted, and yet, kindred spirits abound. Jha, with his filmy background, has been unable to avoid some Bollywood. Men fall in love with women they had set out only to exploit. A gangster, while trying to convince a man of his ferociousness, says, “I will break your jaw with one punch. I have watched Dabangg five times.”
There’s a feeling that Jha converted some scripts into short stories for this book. There is the cop with the past. Two stories have Maoist angles. There is a sense of good triumphing over evil. As plots and stories, these are good. They will keep you engrossed through a flight or a train journey.
Jha has experimented with narrative. In Coma Man, the memories of a man who has spent the last 19 years hidden in a Navi Mumbai hospital, carry the story forward. And, in Injectionalwala, Jha uses newspaper reports.
This is where he falters. Though the stories are engrossing, that Jha isn’t a writer is obvious. And his editor hasn’t helped matters much. Sentences have been left hanging, there were one full stops too many at the end of sentences (were they going for the elipses?).
And every day has been confused with everyday. The editing errors are even more stark in the news write-ups, which seem forgivable compared to the editorial that Jha has slipped under the headline on page 111.
Where Jha deserves credit though, is his attention to Mumbai’s details. So, we have a woman worrying about the rain since it’s already June 15 and a cabbie who refuses fare to Colaba. A revolver changes his attitude quickly. Hmmmm.
Jha doesn’t categorise his city. He profoundly writes: The average Mumbaikar, if there could ever be such a thing.
And where there is Mumbai, can sex be far behind? Jha is obsessed with his women. They are the central characters of his stories and they are also unabashedly aware of their sexuality. They barter sex for revenge and care nothing for stripping on the highway, albeit in a car. But their character portrayal leaves you wondering what Jha’s perception of women truly is.
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