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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

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