The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

I finished reading “The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay” today and feel totally in awe of this masterpiece by Siddharth Shanghvi.

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, the 32-year-old author of the book, has been compared to the likes of Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith and Vikram Seth. He is an Indian who holds an MA in international Journalism from the University of Westminster and an MS in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. He has worked in the past as a chef, a storyteller and even a kennel boy. Shanghvi has been voted as one among the “Fifty Most Powerful Young Indians” by India Today; “The Next Big Thing” by the Sunday Times, U.K.; “Fifty Most Stylish People” by Elle; “Ten Most Creative People” by Hindustan Time; “Ten Best Dressed Men” by La Stampa, Italy and “Fifty Global Indians” by The Times of India.

Lost Flamingoes is Siddharth’s second book. The first book – ‘The Last Song of Dusk’ has been translated into ten languages, won the Betty Trask Award (UK); the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy); and was nominated for the IMPAC Prize. The book is a mesmerizing tale of love and loss. The prose has a lyrical quality to it. The author has developed extremely fascinating characters in this book. I was truly intrigued by the mystical character of Nandini sketched as an overtly ambitious girl who has “the blood of a leopard in her veins”.

Siddharth’s second book struck a chord in my heart as well. With this book, the author has again proven his knack for revealing the most intense human emotions without any brush-ups. It portrays our survival instinct as human beings, amongst the utter chaos and futility of life. It grips the political and social events, which we read about in newspapers as distant occurrences happening in an unreal world far away; and brings them to reality. Lost Flamingoes is a bold, gripping and powerful account of the contemporary events and issues; ranging from the Mumbai floods, shooting of a young model in a crowded pub, a menacing monkey, the failing Indian legal system, AIDS, homosexuality to politics.

The book is the story of Karan Seth, a naturally skilled photographer who moves to Bombay to work for ‘The India Chronicle’. He has a passion to capture Mumbai in his camera. During one of his assignments he meets Samar, a failing celebrity pianist and Zaira, a successful Bollywood actress. While finding the ‘Bombay Fornicator’ in Chor Bazaar on Zaira’s suggestion, he meets Rhea Dalal, who is a homemaker, passionate about pottery. The story starts with the problems Karan faces in adjusting to his new lifestyle and forgetting his troubled past. It moves on to unfold a series of events that take place in Zaira, Samar and Karan’s lives. Karan falls in love with Rhea but this relationship like all the others is also a roller coaster ride. Zaira’s murder and the trial put Samar and Karan through a lot of struggle. They fight a desperate battle amongst a biased judiciary, retracting witnesses and false allegations.

It can sometimes be shocking to see reality up close and the characters in these stories as people – as actual human beings – with feelings, sorrows, dreams and hopes. The amount of pain, hatred, betrayal and loss a person could withstand and still go on to live is unbelievable. With the pages of this book, I took a ride out of my dream world into the naked, hissing reality – the delicate thread that life is – and the futility of it all. “Only the end of the world is the end of the world”.

Mansi Baranwal

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