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 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.

Play

To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

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