Title: The Death of Vishnu
Author: Manil Suri
Accolade: 2002 Pen/Faulkner Nominee
Manil Suri's latest novel 'The Age of Shiva' is due out in February, 2008. As I await to lay my hands on his new book, I decided to read first his much acclaimed debut novel 'The Death of Vishnu'. In this charmingly funny novel, Suri invites you to meet some very interesting characters living in a 3-storied apartment building in Bombay.
Mrs. Asrani and Mrs. Pathak are neighbors. Not the friendly, harmonious type, but the war-mongering kind. They squabble over frivolous matters and a sense of hatred for each other runs in their blood. To top it all, they had to share a kitchen on the first floor.
Mrs. Jalal, a devoted muslim lives upstairs with her husband and son Salim. Mr.Jalal is propelled by the quest of enlightenment and his eccentric behavior drives his wife crazy.
Kavita (Mrs. Asrani's daughter) and Salim (Mrs. Jalal's son) love each other and they meet clandestinely on the terrace often.
Vinod, a reclusive man, lives on the second floor. He depends on his hard-earned money as a banker, a flat he now lives and the food brought over by his servant everyday for his sustenance. All cooped up in his flat, he whiles away his time, lying in bed grieving over his wife's death.
The story begins with Vishnu, an odd-job man who lives on the landing, lying motionless on the verge of death. The stale chappatis brought over by Mrs. Pathak and the watered-down tea from Mrs. Asrani's house stay untouched, as Vishnu daydreams about his childhood days and a love affair with Padmini, a prostitute. His health is deteriorating but, life goes on around him and the apartment dwellers seem oblivious to his physical condition.
One night Jalal, driven by his quest for wisdom, decides to sleep next to Vishnu on the landing. He has a strange dream where Vishnu, the drunkard, is 'Lord Vishnu', the god and he himself the prophet. Next day, Ganga, the servant, finds Jalal asleep on the landing with a dupatta wrapped around his head. Also, Kavita and Salim had eloped the previous night. Despite the hullabaloo about the missing lovers and the mysterious dupatta wrapped on Jalal's head that night, Jalal continues to rant about his strange vision and why everyone should worship Vishnu, the drunkard. But, Where would all this lead him?
No major story plots or anything here. But, Suri makes it up to you with his engaging characters, vivid narration and an interesting prose that might tickle your funny bone at times. I found myself racing through the pages and thought it was a good read overall.
Author's Note: Manil Suri got his inspiration for the central character of this novel from a man named Vishnu who lived on the steps of the apartment building in which he grew up. Apparently, he died on the same landing he occupied for many years.
My Rating: 3.8/5