Set in the metropolitan Bombay, the tale of ‘The Lost Flamingos of Bombay’ revolves around four characters whose lives intervene and throws them in a completely new light. Karan, the lead protagonist, photographer by profession leaves his hometown of Shimla and ventures out to Bombay to capture the city in his lens. Working on an assignment, he meets Samar, the once famous pianist who retired at the ripe old age of 25 leaving his audience shocked when he walked out of a performance since ‘the music had run out’. Zaira, a young famous actor Indian men lust after and women envy, is the closest friend Samar has other than his writer boyfriend, Leo. Rhea is the bored homemaker with a husband living abroad who once had a passion for pottery. As Karan befriends Samar and Zaira he realizes the depth and meaning of friendship. His dream of capturing the city into an epic record is abetted by Rhea whom he meets at Chor Bazar. The author so brilliantly portrays the scene where Rhea takes Karan to Sewri to photograph flamingoes that you can actually visualize it. His relation with Rhea proceeds to entirely different level when he falls in love with her. Lust, passion and casual sex soon become an obsession difficult to maintain when Rhea’s husband returns for holidays. Things grow out control and Karan lands in hospital with broken jaws. Aided by Samar and Zaira, Karan comes back to life and gets a glimpse into their troubled past and unmet desires. In the process, he also opens his heart out to Zaira only to realize that sometimes friendship is stronger and profound than romantic relation.
Karan’s life turns upside down when Zaira is killed mercilessly at the hands of a goon. The sudden demise of Zaira not only leaves the plot but also its readers in a state of shock. What struck me most was the way the author has portrayed the passing moment of Zaira. In those few seconds, entire world comes to a standstill as she breathes her last in Samar’s arms and both of them grasp how strongly and intensely she loves him. Samar on the other hand has to live with the knowledge that his love would never be enough to outgrow hers. The murder trial has many bearings with the infamous Jessica Lal murder case that rocked the nation in 2000. Anger at judicial system, antagonism towards politicians, and ire at the prevailing corruption is penned down most candidly and yet hauntingly by the author. The more your blood boils the more you root for justice. A quote from the book that caught my attention is as follows:
‘Corruption is not in the system. Rather, there is system in the corruption.’
Post-trial Karan flows down to England in order to find restitution and peace of mind. However, as the flamingoes return to their home after migration period so does Karan. His return to Bombay takes him to even deeper levels where he finally finds tranquility with his inner self and with fate.
Siddharth Sanghvi has been blessed with the gift to use every adjective found in the dictionary in his stories. Though this may sometimes go over the top where you realize the description could have ended in one sentence rather than in a paragraph, it can definitely be overlooked. Badly phrased metaphors such as ‘Priya had a crusty librarian’s voice, one that could only be relieved with a dildo’ or ‘Smugness blasted out of her face like a fart’ do irritate you. On the other hand, quotes like ‘People love people in such strange ways that you will need more than one lifetime to figure that one out’ can leave you mesmerized and captivated! Siddharth Sanghvi has displayed the natural talent of building his characters on the backdrop of a city that attracts millions every year and spits out millions every day flawlessly. He has perfectly captured the cruelty and difficulty of Bombay and yet has shown that one can find solace and amity amongst its chaos and loudness with right people to walk along. Characters in the book are real life inspired as we many times see a shade of ourselves in them. The book takes you on a journey of self-realization and helps you identify with yourself. It makes us fathom that world is not all happy and merry but destiny and fate plays an important part which we fail to consider; human relations are more complicated and intricate than we credit them. The most mystifying part of the book is its end. It leaves you stranded, alone and waist down in sadness.
Siddhath Dhanvant Sanghvi ‘the next best thing to have happened to Indian writing in English since Arundhati Roy’ as described by Times Magazine entered with his debut novel, ‘The Last Song of Dusk’, that won the Betty Trask Award (UK), the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy) and was nominated for the IMPAC Prize (Ireland). The story goes that Sanghvi had its manuscript ready at age of 22 but only got it published at 26 because he forgot about it. His second and last novel ‘The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay’ was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. Today, he lives in Bombay where he has found another way of storytelling: through his camera!