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The Lost Flamingos of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Posted on: October 1, 2012

Os Flamingos perdidos de BombaimOs Flamingos perdidos de Bombaim by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A book about a set of characters from the high-society in Bombay. The book revolves around the life of a gifted photographer, Karan, from Simla who has moved to Bombay to make his living. As an assignment he is asked to photograph a gay pianist who has stopped playing piano and is now living with his american boyfriend. Karan manages to take not so flattering photographs of the pianist and on the basis of these he manages to get a private photography session with the pianist. On the side Karan is also planning to to document Bombay through a set of photographs.

As he is photographing the pianist the leading Bollywood lady who is the pianist’s close friend tumbles into the scene. She has just been harassed by a big-shot politician’s son while her shooting for the latest film was going on. Karan exercises discretion and does not photograph the scenes between these two as it unveils before him. He is introduced to this lady and she becomes his friend too. He is also introduced to the pianist’s boyfriend for whom he takes an instant dislike.

On learning that Karan wishes to document Bombay through his photographs the Bollywood actress suggests that he visit Chor Bazar for some interesting photographs and asks him to also look for what is known as Bombay Fornicator for her.

When he finally visits the Chor Bazar he meets up with a rich married lady, Mrs. Dalal an amateur potter, who shows him that the Bombay fornicator happens to be a chair of the colonial era which provides for easy fornication. When she learns that he is looking to documenting Bombay through his photographs and after looking at the quality of his photographs, she offers to drive him around Bombay to interesting places. One of the places she takes him to are the mudflats at Sewri which play a host to flamingos which come there during their migration. During the right season one can see thousands and thousands of flamingos roosting in these mudflats.

He also starts visiting her at her house. They end up discussing each other’s life and he learns that her husband is away for most of the times in Singapore and that she had given up her budding career as a potter to get married to her husband who wooed her from even when they were teenagers. She also reveals that she has failed to conceive and this makes her husband distressed. One thing leads to another and they end up having an affair.

In the meantime as a part of promotion for an up coming film the Bollywood actress becomes a bar-tender for a night. On this fateful night the obsessed politician’s son walks up to ask her for a drink after the bar has closed and she refuses to give him one as the bar has closed. The politico’s son loses his head in the rage of being refused and shoots her dead. Both the pianist and Karan happen to be in the bar, but are not witness to this incident. They come only after the event has occurred.

A case is put against the politico’s son. But the political bigwig pulls all strings and only Karan and the pianist end up deposing against this son. All others pretend they are unaware of the exact turn of events and due to the dilution of witnesses the politico’s son goes scot-free angering both the pianist and Karan.

In the meantime the pianist’s boy-friend who is a writer of some credibility wishes to write a book on the incident and the case, but the pianist appeals to him to not write anything and this starts the break between them. The boyfriend also realizes that he is suffering from AIDS. Karan and the pianist end up arguing and Karan asks the pianist “Ask your boyfriend where he got AIDS from?”. This angers the pianist and he and his boyfriend end up heading to America.

He also ends up having an argument with Mrs. Dalal. She has also become pregnant. He ends up calling her up at odd times and in presence of her husband who has by now become suspicious, but when he realizes that she is pregnant he is very happy. She tries to lie to him that Karan is a telemarketeer who has been bothering her, but when one day Karan walks up to her house and confronts her in presence of her husband who ends up trashing him, she is forced to cook up another story which seems to satisfy her husband. They both move to Singapore and Karan who now no longer works the way he used to gets fired from his job. His mentor in the publication is torched during the Bombay riots of 1993.
He applies for a teaching job in UK and moves there for three years.
Mrs. Dalal comes back to Bombay for the child’s delivery in the same hospital in which her husband was born. Mr. Dalal’s happiness knows no bounds. One day before they are expected to go back to their home from the hospital after the delivery the nurse carrying the child is bitten by a monkey and the child falls down to its death. Mr. Dalal goes into a depression which leads to more arguments between him and Mrs. Dalal and in the process she blurts out her affair with Karan. Mr. Dalal disappears for good.
Karan has an affair with the mother of a child whom he has taught, but is not able to commit himself and comes back to Bombay. He tries his hand at teaching, but fails to get along with the principal of the school. He then takes up a job in a call center and works in the night shift.

The pianist comes back to Bombay after finding may of his friends in America dying. His boyfriend has moved to New York and is taking treatment and writing from there and their relationship is beyond repair. He is suffering from AIDS and is moving towards his death.

Karan happens to read about his presence in a Newspaper and comes to meet him. They end up as friends and Karan spends time with the pianist during the last stages of his life. After his death Karan gets back to photographing and publishes a book on Bombay as he had planned earlier. Mrs. Dalal, now living alone, sees this book and buys it. One fine day they bump into each other and end up sitting in a bench sponsored by Karan in memory of the pianist. They discuss their current life and try to forgive each other for what happened in the past. But that is their last meeting as Karan reveals his plan to go back to his hometown Simla.

One can find many incidents that have happened in real-life India being weaved into the book. This will provide a deja-vu reading for the reader familiar with the incidents.

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