15 June, 2021

Hot Air Beneath A Layer Of Subcutaneous Fat

Adiga resurrects a Mumbai staple: the grasping builder versus an idealist, parcelling it in comically fustian prose

Getty Images (From Outlook, July 25, 2011)
Hot Air Beneath A Layer Of Subcutaneous Fat

With Last Man In Tower, Malgudi metrosexual hits Mumbai, and reports on the reality the city has been living through this past decade. Almost every week, newspapers feature the story of an elderly householder coerced and intimidated by the builder who covets his property. The usual fallouts are disappearance, dementia or death. Reporters have risked their lives—and sometimes lost them—investigating this story. Yet, Aravind Adiga, a journalist himself, has felt compelled to write a novel about it, suggesting fiction might offer newer dimensions.

This is perhaps the most successful genre in Indian fiction—gonzo journalism gone rogue. Recent practitioners of the art have sold us pulp in very large doses. Published in Britain or in the US, these novels can be nothing less than literary. But story apart, these bloated books have very little to say.

Happily, Adiga opts out of this club. To begin with, his in-built bullshit detector is alive and ticking. He is not embarrassed by his rage, and for once,...

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