Book review

One more Mumbai novel? No, perhaps ‘the’ novel of modern Mumbai

Ganesh Matkari’s ‘Half-Open Windows’ makes the reader part of the plot.

“Someone ought to write a poem on who killed the city of Mumbai.”

Half-Open Windows reads people you wouldn’t ordinarily want to read. There are corporate giants, hypocritical house husbands, overstressed students of architecture a la Peter Keating, and what’s more, the weather’s not that great. It’s humid outside, it might just rain, any moment, and you’re reading about Mumbai, which is not over there, the way New York is, or even Singapore. Mumbai, which is right here, is being read. Would you ordinarily want to read it?

I choose to use the word ordinarily because that banality comes prepackaged in Ganesh Matkari’s novel, except it’s not presented in a banal fashion, and so it coruscates. The reader knows, right from the beginning, that this is not a grand project (unlike all the architectural ambitions strewn across the story.) It is not a castigation of urban morality, nor an attempt at other disambiguations: more often than not, scenes in the novel end with the protagonist in question sitting at a table, wondering.

And that’s another thing: do you want one protagonist per novel? Or two, or three, at the most? Look elsewhere. Half-Open Windows has six, seven, eight protagonists. And each chapter presents a different protagonist speaking. It is the ultimate showing-not-telling of life’s great indifference to our solipsism. It is one thing to know that every person has their story to tell; it is another thing to have every person actually tell their story. And by choosing to do the latter, Ganesh Matkari does a remarkable thing: he displaces the very idea of protagonism from the body of the human being.

It’s not about anyone (unless it’s about something)

The city becomes the protagonist at times. Occasionally, it is the weather that does the talking; crowds are another huge contender for your imaginative attention, and more often than not, thanks to Jerry Pinto’s succinct translation from the Marathi, it is the quotidian machinery of an urban existence that grabs the spotlight’s fancy, not to mention your own – the interior of a car, the outside of a café, a drying balcony, an airport lounge.

Again, a disclaimer here is necessary: this is not a story about oh, do look how rich we are, how diversely but nevertheless uniformly rich, look how not one of us is poor or strapped for cash, look how we drive our cars! No. This is a story about life being lived, on paper, despite all these reasons not to live it that way: speeding cars, Café Coffee Days, Skype, iPads, Whatsapp messages, press junkets at the Marriott, skyscrapers under construction, porn featuring Sunny Leone.

Furthermore, Pinto’s translation of this novel (and as I imagine, the novel itself) takes the Marathiness of its names extremely seriously. It is beautiful to confront this destruction of this ever-extant coloniality, this presentation in the English language of a world I like to think of as terribly Marathi, but also futuristically Marathi, the kind of Marathi that looks to the past not for vindicative exhumation but for nonchalant, almost amused observations.

The effect – and for me, this is the desired effect – is not that you end up confronting your choices of Juliet and Romeo over Sohni and Mahiwal, but that you don’t end up confronting your unconscious prejudices, your inherent parochialism: you simply end up a part of the plot, and you stay that way.

Because no matter how complex their desires, or how stiflingly vicious the city they live in, these are people living an extremely simple story, not without an equally simple message. The simple story is that some children and some adults are trying to live their lives with each other, and the simple message is, simple is absolutely not what you thought it was.

The who, what (and maybe why, when and how)

Here is a brief presentation of the cast, and one of the plot as well: several timelines, lives, families, secrets, opinions, and most importantly, perspectives intersect. We begin with Sushrut, who sounds and seems attractive and is trying to decide whether he wants to play house-husband-plus-eternally-creative-writer to his partner Sanika. Sanika is an architect, who has a “real job” in cruel opposition to Sushrut’s mild artistic considerations and audio book downloads.

Sanika works with her business partners Niranjan and Anant. Niranjan is the openly, univocally bad person in the story, a get-things-done forty-plus cool dude with a few intelligent opinions. Anant is more like Sanika, who is upright and hard-working.

Then, all these people just mentioned have their families, their friends, their neighbours, their love interests, and their voices to find in this plethoric setting. And summarising this novel is tough because – and when you read it you will appreciate the irony of the words that follow – there is no denouement, no falling action. Matkari is simply – and by now you should be reconsidering what this word could mean – reading and writing people living their lives with each other, inspired as he is by cinema and its audiovisual catharsis.

But like the title of the book, this claim about simplicity could go any way, prone as it is to metaphorical readings. The cover is a tasteful one: the bottom left half gives us a wide shot of a skyscraper under construction, and the top right half shows a large dead crow pheasant (better known as the bhardwaj), all suspended against a yellow background.

And what could “half-open windows” mean? Whatever it is, it certainly has much to do with the sadness within the story, the halfness, and with the Hitchcockian desire to spot and anticipate things from afar. Go read this novel; it gets over fast not because it’s short, but because that’s how things work now – they get over fast, they end quick.

Half-Open Windows, Ganesh Matkari, translated from the Marathi by Jerry Pinto, Speaking Tiger Books.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.