Friday, August 12, 2011

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra .

I read the product description on Amazon ...

An enormously satisfying, exciting and enriching book, Vikram Chandra's novel draws the reader deep into the lives of detective Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde, the most wanted gangster in India. Sartaj, the only Sikh inspector in the whole of Mumbai, is used to being identified by his turban, beard and the sharp cut of his trousers. But 'the silky Sikh' is now past forty, his marriage is over and his career prospects are on the slide. When Sartaj gets an anonymous tip off as to the secret hideout of the legendary boss of the G-company, he's determined that he'll be the one to collect the prize.This is a sprawling, epic novel of friendships and betrayals, of terrible violence, of an astonishing modern city and its underworld. Drawing on the best of Victorian fiction, mystery novels, Bollywood movies and Vikram Chandra's years of first hand research on the streets of Mumbai, this novel reads like a potboiling page-turner but resonates with the intelligence and emotional depth of the best of literature.

...That's one for me, I thought, a crime thriller set in Mumbai. You open this book and come to the Dramatis Personae, which is a list of all the major characters in this novel...

Sartaj Singh: a Sikh police inspector in Mumbai

Katekar: a police constable who works with Sartaj Singh

Shalini, Katekar’s wife

Mohit and Rohit, their sons

Mrs Kamala Pandey: a married woman and airline hostess with a lover, an airline pilot named Umesh

Kamble: an ambitious police sub-inspector who works with Sartaj Singh

Parulkar: a deputy commissioner of police in Mumbai

Ganesh Gaitonde: a notorious Hindu gangster and don, leader of the G-Company in Mumbai

Suleiman Isa: a much-feared Muslim gangster and don, leader of a rival gang in Mumbai

Paritosh Shah: a supremely gifted money handler for gangsters, including Ganesh Gaitonde

Kanta Bai: a businesswoman who deals with Paritosh Shah and Ganesh Gaitonde

Badriya: Paritosh Shah’s bodyguard

Anjali Mathur: a government intelligence agent investigating Ganesh Gaitonde’s death

Chotta Badriya: Ganesh Gaitonde’s bodyguard, and the younger brother of Badriya

Juliet (Jojo) Mascarenas: a television producer/agent for aspiring actors and models … and a high class Madam

Mary Mascarenas: Jojo’s sister who works as a hairdresser

Wasim Zafar Ali Ahmad: a social worker in a poor neighbourhood in Mumbai who has political aspirations

Prabhjot Kaur, ‘Nikki’: Sartaj Singh’s mother, originally from the Punjab Navneet, her beloved oldest sister

Ram Pari: the maidservant of Nikki’s mother in the Punjab

Bunty: Ganesh Gaitonde’s right hand man and organizer

Bipin Bhonsle: a Hindu fundamentalist politician whom Ganesh Gaitonde helps get elected to public office

Sharma (aka Trivedi): Bipin Bhonsle’s ally who also works, through intermediaries, for Swami Shridhar Shukla

Swami Shridhar Shukla, ‘Guru-ji’: a Hindu guru and nationalist, a spiritual adviser of international renown, who becomes Ganesh Gaitonde’s spiritual mentor

Subhadra Devalekar: Ganesh Gaitonde’s wife and mother of his young son

K. D. Yadav (aka Mr Kumar): a pioneering Indian intelligence officer who ‘ran’ Ganesh Gaitonde and became a mentor to Anjali Mathur

Mr Kulkarni: the intelligence agent who runs Ganesh Gaitonde after K. D. Yadav

Major Shahid Khan: a Pakistani intelligence agent who masterminds a counterfeit money operation against India

Shambhu Shetty: proprietor of the Delite Dance Bar

Iffat-bibi: Suleiman Isa’s maternal aunt who is one of his main controllers in Mumbai

Majid Khan: a police inspector in Mumbai, a colleague of Sartaj Singh

Zoya Mirza: an actress and a rising star in the Indian film industry

Aadil Ansari: an educated but poor man from a small rural town who flees to Mumbai to escape the violent conflicts of his native Bihar

Sharmeen Khan: the high-school-age daughter of Major Shahid Khan, who moves to the USA to work in Washington, DC, and brings his family – wife, daughter, and mother – with him

Daddi: Shahid Khan’s mother, originally from the Punjab; to her family, she is a Muslim, but she hides a secret

...Sacred Games is not a short story, it is a HUGE epic novel that was written in 2006 and has 960 pages in paperback, also available as a 1503 KB Kindle text file. The current price for the Kindle Edition is £6.12 but I bought in April for £1.35 which is an absolute bargain and real value for money!

Sacred Games is not just a crime thriller, it takes the reader on a journey to explore life among the people of Mumbai. It is like an adventure holiday with people and a culture you would never meet. There are criminals and other people caught up in this underworld of Mumbai away from the gloss. This full story of Mumbai life covers a wide range of issues and shows how Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs can live together.

Sacred Games highlights attitude, for example at location 2901...

It was unseemly, after all these years and years, this unvanquished and sullen spark rising from clothes on the floor, this small spurt of anger at having to always do things for men, always.

...and highlights prejudice against religions, for example at locations 3306 and 3465...

Mata-ji began to curse Muslims. ‘No one can ever live with these people,’ she said. ‘They are incapable of living peacefully with anyone.’ Her face was suffused with blood, flushed and thickened by it. ‘Dirty lying people,’ she said.

‘Why? Why be quiet? I’ll shout it out loud. These Muslims are bhenchods and maderchods. If all their women were standing in front of me, I would hang them up and cut them open like goats. I would pull out their intestines with my own hands. With pleasure I would do it. Bhenchods. Maderchods.’

...A great deal of Sacred Games deals with spirituality, the meaning of life and the relevance of gods between faiths. You do not need to be an expert on Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism to understand how these characters challenge their own beliefs and that of other faiths. The interaction and mistrust between these characters who observe different religions is rather interesting as they get on with their lives in Mumbai. Two quotes to highlight spirituality can be found at locations 4713 and 14486...

I was tempted to believe. But early in my life, I had seen how belief was an inner rot that hollowed out a man and made him a eunuch. I knew faith was a convenient crutch for cowards and weaklings. No, I wanted no such disease inside me.

Where would home be when home was gone? Could you have a home away from home when there was no home? What would you long for, what would you dream of when you settled into sleep? When somebody asked, where do you come from, what would you say?

...But it is not all about survival in Mumbai, there is a lot of good banter and humour too, for example at locations 5064, 8062, 11480, 11770 and 14737...

‘You watch. One heavy rain and trains will stop. This chutiya central line, if ten schoolboys stand in a row and piss on the tracks, bhenchod service is disrupted.’

Dipu and Meetu were talking about women, about the prodigies of chodoing they were going to achieve when they got out. Kataruka was laughing at them. ‘You ganwars,’ he said. ‘You think those Lamington Road whores are women? They’re bhenchod worse than animals. You might as well chodo the next bitch you see nosing around in a garbage dump.

Giving a woman any information is a foolishness that I counselled my boys against. Whatever you tell will always be one day used against you.

‘Baba, I said it’ll be a hit, no? All I’m saying is that it’s a certain kind of film.’ ‘Yes, it’s not the kind where you have three women jabbering at each other about how sad and put-down they are for one and a half hours, and then another two women ranting about how bad men are for another hour. Gaandu, you make a dozen television shows like that if you want, but you’re not going to shove my film down that smelly path.’

‘A virgin?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You idiot. How do you think she survived in this city before she came to you? You bhenchod men always pay more for virgins, so she became a virgin for you.’ ‘No. I saw the blood.’ She laughed so hard she had to hold on to the side of a table. ‘Gaitonde, of all the pompous, gaandu men in the world, you are the blindest. Arre, inside ten miles of here there are twenty doctors who will make any woman a virgin again. The operation takes half an hour, it costs twenty-five, thirty thousand rupees. And in three weeks the renewed virgin can be ready to spread her legs on a white sheet, so some tiny little Gaitonde can see all the blood and think he’s big.’

...India had problems over the years with terrorism and the intelligence community has it's work cut out. These terrorist threats may not come from the usual suspects. A relevant quote is at location 5243...

‘The old saying goes: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.'

...Sacred Games features lots of villains on both sides of the law. A police force with endemic corruption that is accepted by the Police and the residents as the norm. This book gives the reader a view of another world from the comfort of your armchair. There is a lot variety with this story as there are many plots running at the same time. Because Sacred Games is such a HUGE epic novel, it took me 14 weeks to read through it all. Then I had a wave of feeling that I had been to Mumbai and now I had returned to everyday life back in Britain.

The people of Mumbai appear to be trapped in their vibrant city but make the most of it and never want to leave. I enjoyed reading Sacred Games and got a lot from it. It is quality writing and is easy to read. This novel is full of local colour and you get the vibe of the city. This book not only entertains but also broadens your mind. When you finish reading this story, you think back and feel as though you have travelled.

Ganesh Gaitonde and Sartaj Singh are the two main characters but everyone plays a meaningful part. The structure of this book is unusual because early on Sartaj captures Ganesh. From this point the story splits in two directions, Ganesh describes what has happened to him before his capture by Sartaj and Sartaj describes what happens after Ganesh's capture. Normally books that mess about with a time-line really annoy me and I avoid them. Sacred Games is different and this use of two time scales actually works because it teaches the reader about how life goes on in Mumbai for the people work live and work there, quite often among the underworld. This playing around with the time scale allows the reader to understand the whole culture of Mumbai and this is the real treasure of Sacred Games. Then you understand the constant threat of betrayal that all the characters have to live with every day. This sense of betrayal really works at the minds of characters and you then begin to feel empathy for them, even if they are the bad guys. You take on this worry about betrayal and you start to think ahead and wonder who will betray who next and for what reason.

I make no apologies for the length of this book review. It took me 14 weeks to read through Sacred Games and it was not a chore but a joy. It is an epic novel and a tremendous amount of work has gone into it. There does not appear to be any padding in this novel, it just seems to be it's natural length to explain in full the vibrancy of Mumbai's underworld and how the values of Ganesh and Sartaj actually meet. It is no wonder how Vikram Chandra has won so many awards and acclaim for Sacred Games...

Sacred Games is the winner of the Hutch Crossword Book Award 2006 in the English Fiction category; the winner of a 2007 Salon Book Award; and a Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. It is also included in:

"Books of the Year," The Independent (UK)

"Twenty Best Books of the Year," Le Point (France)

"Books of the Year," Financial Times (UK)

"Pick of the Month," January 2007, Booksense (USA)

"10 Best Asian Books of 2006," Time Magazine (Asia Edition)

"Best Fiction of 2006," Guardian (USA)

"The Fiction List for 2006," (USA)

"Notable Books," Sahara Time (India)

"Fiction of the Year," Business Standard (India)

"Best Books," Man's World (India)

"Roll of Honour," The Financial Express (India)

"Notable Books," San Francisco Chronicle (USA)

...So, what do I vote Sacred Games on Good Reads ? For this epic reading experience I vote Sacred Games the maximum score of 5 stars without hesitation. Well done Vikram, you have written a lovely book which was also excellent value for money.

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