The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri


I remember hearing years ago that this 2001 book was a good read.  I certainly agree, but oh, what grim lives he describes.

Vishnu, whose mother told him countless stories about the god Vishnu he was named for, lives on one of the landings in an apartment house.  He gets a few rupees from inhabitants of the apartments, and now that he is nearly dead, they leave him tea and sometimes leftover chapattis.  Two families are Hindu and their bickering is unpleasant enough, but ultimately it is the Moslim family whose story is unbearable.  And there is the widower on the top floor who just couldn't recover from his wife's death.  Those who are not venal tend toward the foolish.  And yet, it was a good read. 

The moments of pleasure in these lives are few; Vishnu has lovely stolen moments with a beautiful prostitute, Padmini.  Kavita, the daughter of one of the Hindu families has happy nights with Salim, the son of the Moslim Jalal family.  Mr. Jalal, who spent his life as a non-believer who studied all religions, was overcome by doubts about his worldview and eventually has a vision that turns out to be directly from the Bhagavad Gita that makes him believe he is a prophet.

There were a number of references to Bollywood films; sometimes the movies seemed more real to the characters than their own lives.  Humm…sometimes it occurs to me that we "inhabit" our own celebrity world, too. 

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